Gantz claims Iran giving Venezuela attack drone know-how

Defense Minister tells US Jewish leadership group that Tehran also gave South American nation precision-guided missiles to be used with Mohajer-6 drone

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, on February 22, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, on February 22, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused Iran Tuesday of transferring advanced drone technology to Venezuela, warning of a potential new threat from machinery that has wreaked havoc in the Middle East in recent months.

Gantz showed a gathering of US Jewish leaders a photo that he said proved the South American country was importing Iranian UAVs with attack capabilities.

“This image shows a model of the advanced Iranian Mohajer UAV, presented by Venezuela’s President,” Gantz told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at a meeting in Jerusalem.

“In addition to developing Iranian UAVs in Venezuela, our assessments show that Iranian [precision-guided munitions] are being delivered for these UAVs and other similar models,” he said. Images posted on social media last year showed such munitions in the country.

Ties between the two heavily-sanctioned anti-American allies have become robust in recent years, as the US has continued to mount pressure. In December, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced he would soon visit Iran at the invitation of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, to work on furthering cooperation.

“With this image in mind, I can tell you that in my meetings with partners from around the world, including African and Latin American partners, I heard extreme concern about Iranian support for terrorism,” Gantz said during his Tuesday speech.

The Iran-made Mohajer-6 UAV is apparently capable of carrying up to two Qaem precision-guided munitions units, according to images released by the Iranian Defense Ministry.

Iran has been accused of arming Yemen’s Houthi rebels with drones used to attack targets in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and American forces in Iraq, sometimes with deadly effect.

Earlier this week, the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group claimed responsibility for launching a small drone, apparently for reconnaissance, that entered Israel from Lebanon and seemingly flummoxed Israeli attempts to intercept it.

Tehran has also been accused of conducting a drone attack on an Israeli-linked vessel sailing through the Gulf of Oman last summer, in which a British and a Romanian crew member were killed.

A photo shared by Defense Minister Benny Gantz on February 22, 2022, which he says proves Iran has transferred to Venezuela the know-how to produce advanced UAVs. (Defense Ministry)

Speaking on the Iranian nuclear deal, Gantz stressed that if a deal is signed with Iran, this “does not mark the end of the road.”

“It opens the door to important action that must be taken,” he said, including “stopping the development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.”

“Enforcement and supervision by the IAEA are crucial but not enough,” Gantz said, referring to the UN nuclear watchdog, adding that “we need to have offensive capabilities and a set of sanctions ready in our back pockets in case Iran violates the agreement.”

“During the JCPOA period, Iran increased its security budget by 50%,” he said referring to the 2015 nuclear accord by its initials. “We must deal with Iranian aggression and support for proxies and ensure that their ‘so-called’ security budget isn’t increased and money isn’t poured into terrorism,” Gantz added.

“Iran truly is a global and regional challenge and not just a threat to the State of Israel,” he concluded.

The US has imposed sanctions on Iran in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program and efforts to revive a 2015 pact with world powers. Negotiations are underway in Vienna to save the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which has been unraveling since the US pulled out of the deal in 2018 and Iran responded by increasing its nuclear activities.

Venezuela is also under stiff US sanctions that have impacted the country’s crude oil exports. The Trump administration shuttered the American embassy in Caracas in March 2019 after recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Ever since, relations between the two countries have grown steadily more hostile.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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