Updated: Jun 8, 2020
On April 29, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that Mahan Air, Iran's largest airline, had completed several flights with unknown cargo to Venezuela. He called on all US allies and partner nations to deny overflight rights to Mahan, which he considers to be a terrorist entity.
In a Department of State Press Briefing, Pompeo alerted the world to the situation, "Over the last few days, multiple aircraft belonging to Mahan Air have transferred unknown support to the Maduro regime." He further made reference to the fact that Mahan Air played a critical role in the movement of fighters, small-arms, and weapons of mass destruction to Syria in support of Syrian government operations during the civil war, "This is the same terrorist airline that Iran used to move weapons and fighters around the Middle East." Ending on a stern note, he declared the flights, "must stop."
According to Flightradar 24, a flight-tracking service, Mahan planes were monitored flying from Tehran to the Las Piedras airport in western Venezuela on April 21 and 22. A day after those flights, a Venezuelan official announced the country received materials via Iranian aircraft to help it restart the Cardon Refinery's catalytic cracking unit, which is necessary to produce gasoline, a resource that Venezuela is running critically low on. Las Piedras airport is near where the Cardon Refinery is located, seemingly confirming the story.
Since 2018, the United States government has targeted Venezuela with sanctions and diplomatic measures in an effort to oust Venezuelan President Maduro, whose re-election was viewed as rigged by most Western countries. In late March, highlighting increased tensions, the Trump Administration announced a sweeping indictment against Maduro, former Venezulan National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, former Director of Military Intelligence Hugo Carvajal, General Clíver Antonio Alcalá, and two senior FARC commanders, charging them specifically with narco-terrorism, money laundering, and drug trafficking.
The United States and most of the western world recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. But Maduro, with aid from Cuba, Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran, has retained the support of the military, and thus his grip on power.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.