There's a situation developing south of the border that has the potential to become President Obama's very own missile crisis.
Die Welt reports that in fulfillment of a commitment made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran in October 2010, Iran has now entered the concrete planning phase for constructing launching pads for Iranian intermediate-range missiles in Venezuela. The missiles Iran intends to deploy at the site are believed to be Shahab 3s (1300-1500 km range), Scud-Bs (285-330 km) and Scud-Cs (300, 500 and 700 km).
Note that Venezuela is about 2000 km from Florida. And according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran is making "robust strides" in its attempts to manufacture longer-range ballistic missiles "with the apparent aim of being able to deliver nuclear warheads."
Citing "Western security insiders," Die Welt claims that Iran is building the launching pads on the Paraguaná Peninsula, which is on the coast of Venezuela about 75 miles from Colombia. This would appear to be the first stage of a larger project to establish a military base that will eventually be manned by Iranian missile officers and soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Venezuelan missile officers who are to receive intensive training from the Iranians.
When the agreement between Iran and Venezuela was signed last fall, the Hudson Institute noted the significance of the timing: it coincided with NATO's Lisbon summit (19-20 November 2010), which set up a missile defense capability to protect NATO's European territories against ballistic missile attacks from the East (i.e., Iran). "Iran's counter-move consists in establishing a strategic base in the South American continent -- in the United States's soft underbelly," the Institute wrote.
The plan is now in motion. Engineers from Khatam al-Anbia, a construction company owned by the Revolutionary Guards, visited Paraguaná in February. According to Die Welt, their delegation was approved by Amir al-Hadschisadeh, the head of the Guard’s Air Force. The project is believed to entail command and control stations, bunkers, barracks and watch towers, and twenty-meter deep rocket silos. It's being financed by Iranian petroleum revenues, and Iran is said to have already paid in cash for the preliminary phase of construction.
The missile base, when armed, will constitute a multi-level threat. Chavez agreed at the 2010 meeting in Teheran to fire on Iran's Western enemies if Iran is itself attacked, and Iran agreed to allow Venezuela to use its missiles for "national needs" -- a phrase that should cause some sleep to be lost in Bogotá and elsewhere in the region.
The base will also, as the Hudson Institute notes, represent a means by which Iran and its suppliers can sidestep UN sanctions. After the latest round of sanctions, "Russia decided not to sell five battalions of S-300PMU-1 air defence systems to Iran," the Institute wrote in December 2010. "These weapons, along with a number of other weapons, were part of a deal, signed in 2007, worth $800 million. Now that these weapons cannot be delivered to Iran, Russia is looking for new customers; according to the Russian press agency Novosti, it found one: Venezuela."