The United States is once again seeking to increase even greater pressure on Iran. The United States is doing just that through its confiscation of four cargo vessels full of gasoline that the United States has accused Iran of attempting to give to Venezuela. This action taken by the United States comes as a result of both Iran and Venezuela being in violation of U.S. sanctions. America’s seizure of the four vessels followed a civil-forfeiture complaint issued by U.S. federal prosecutors in July of this year.
The federal suit filed by the United States alleged that an Iranian businessman who is in business with the U.S.-labeled terrorist organization Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had arranged for the gasoline fuel to be shipped to Venezuela through a number of shell companies in the United Arab Emirates to avoid detection of sanction violations by the United States. When the suit was filed, it was unknown whether the United States had the authority to seize the vessels carrying the fuel.
However, last week a federal judge ruled that the United States had the authority to seize the ships, saying that federal prosecutors had provided enough evidence that the vessels belonged to a terrorist organization. An American official told The Wall Street Journal that the ships were taken without the use of military force.
The United States had previously attempted to seize the same group of vessels after they were taken by the United Kingdom territory of Gibraltar, but their subsequent release of the vessels prevented the U.S. from stopping Iran from shipping oil into Syria.
As mentioned previously, the confiscated ships were suspected to be in control of an Iranian businessman doing business with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It has been reported that the actual vessels themselves belong to a Greece-based shipping company that the United States Treasury Department has flagged as a potential violator of U.S. sanctions. The company does its business through multiple ship-to-ship transfers of goods. This action, along with a large space in time between transponder data, has raised concerns with U.S. officials in the Treasury Department that countries seeking to avoid sanctions are doing business with the Greek company.
The confiscation of the cargo ships is another step taken by the Trump Administration to continue their promise to place “maximum pressure” on Iran and deter other countries from doing business with the Iranians. Tensions between the United States and Iran have been quiet as of late, with the last serious drama between the two countries being in January following the United States assassination of General Qasem Soleimani.
Tensions between the United States and Iran tend to occur in international waters. In 2016, Iran took ten Navy personnel hostage after two U.S. Naval patrol boats entered into Iranian waters. The Navy members were held hostage for fifteen hours. Following the American withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, the United States increased sanctions on Iranian oil and gas companies and Iranian exports which prevented Iran from conducting business on the ocean on its own. In June of 2019, six oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman were hit with explosions which the United States called an “unprovoked attack” by Iran.
This latest action taken by the United States is an example of one of the foreign policy successes by the Trump Administration. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been extremely focused on countering the Iranian regime’s actions to destabilize the Middle East and desire to cause trouble in Venezuela. Nevertheless, Iran will always continue to be a nuisance in international affairs, and the United States must remain focused on countering the Iranians from doing any more harm to American interests.