While US disputes with Iran tend to make headlines more frequently than those involving Venezuela, it is not Iran but Venezuela that is this year’s hot spot for US backed “regime change”. Here are the reasons why:
Whilst Iran is located close to prominent enemies including Saudi Arabia and a nuclear armed Israel, Iran is also neighboured by NATO member Turkey which under the leadership of President Erdoğan is a staunch supporter of Tehran, in spite of some lingering disagreements regarding a jointly authored (along with Russia) Syrian peace process. Iran is also only a proverbial stone’s throw away from Russia, a military superpower that is not only a partner to Iran, but one that is on guard against the chaos that would flow out of any regional efforts to destabilise Iran.
That being said, although Russia and Turkey would likely not directly (key word) become involved in a large scale war in Iran, millions of Afghan Shi’a Muslims, Arab Shi’a from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, as well as some Pakistani Shi’a and Armenian war veterans would likely become very much involved in such a battle. As many Afghan Shi’a as well as many Arab Shi’a have been battle hardened by a number of recent conflicts, any direct US assault on Iran would quickly transform into a wider war in which some of the best fighters across two regions would join.
While Venezuela has many of the same geopolitical friends as Iran, they are all located in a different hemisphere. Because of this, while China, Turkey and Russia have all made strong statements in support of Venezuela’s legal government, from a military point of view, there are clear constraints that Venezuela’s Asian allies have in coming to its defence, short of turning a North-South America conflict into a world war – something that no one is prepared to do.
Beyond this, while Iran has a network of loyalist fighters who have been battle hardened by conflicts on either side of Iran, the same cannot be said of Venezuela, a country whose neighbours have all joined the US in attempts to economically and diplomatically isolate Caracas.
A ready made “opposition”
Iran has a vibrant political opposition to the rule of President Hassan Rouhani, but the trouble from an American standpoint is that the parties and factions opposed to Rouhani are generally far more anti-American than those who support the current Iranian President.
By contrast, Venezuela’s National Assembly leader Juan Guaido has already declared himself President and while the UN has ignored this proclamation, the US is taking it very seriously. Therefore, unlike in Iran, Venezuela’s opposition is actively disrupting the constitutional order and is mobilised to seize power if given the (foreign) resources to do so.
While Iran is a prominent energy producer, Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. This means that the US would ideally like to have its companies back in the country whose petro-industry was nationalised under the current President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez. As Venezuela shares a western hemisphere with the United States, Washington had long been a vital element to Venezuela’s energy sector until recent years when the Bolivarian system instituted by Chavez looked to Russia and China in order to develop a domestic energy sector.
US energy companies have never stopped wanting to come back into Venezuela and because Venezuela would technically be the world’s top prize when it comes to ‘regime change for oil’, Venezuela outstrips Iran in this respect.
Even if the US succeeded in a weaponised regime change in Tehran, those millions of regional pro-Iranian fighters mentioned in a previous section would be sure to extract there revenge on valuable US resources in the region. Such fighters could also decide to launch guerrilla style attacks against US allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel in order to avenge a would-be US led regime change in Iran. Thus, the stakes are very high in this respect.
By contrast, if regime change came to Venezuela, not only would Colombia and especially Brazil’s leadership applaud, but there would be little in the way of militant blowback against US resources in Latin America. This is the case due to the fact that Latin America is not home to groups like Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilisation Units and like minded groups in the Middle East that are loyal to Iran.
Unlike Venezuela, Iran is still supported by America’s EU allies
While the European Union has joined the US in sanctioning Venezuela, the same European leadership has vowed to defy the US withdrawal form the JCPOA (aka the 2015 Iran nuclear deal) and continue to do business with Iran. While European leaders are having a difficult time resisting US attempts to stop the continued flow of EU-Iran financial exchange, there is no appetite in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and to an extent even in London for the kind of anti-Iran campaign that Washington hawks desire.
Thus, while Iran’s most powerful neighbours and nearby states oppose regime change in Tehran and while America’s EU allies oppose regime change in Tehran for different reason, in respect of Venezuela, most South American nations have jumped on Washington’s anti-Caracas bandwagon whilst the EU has been there for some time.
While a “shock and awe” style invasion of Venezuela remains a remote possibility, it is looking increasingly likely that the US will officially recognise presidential pretender Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state and then proceed to give his faction the money and possibly even the arms it requires to stage a constitutional coup in the same way that such a coup was staged in Kiev in 2014.
While many in Tel Aviv and Washington would like to do the same in Tehran, this will likely remain a desire rather than a specific game plan.