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The Venezuelan Missile Crisis: The Parallels Hold Up

So far the report in Die Welt about Iranian missile bases in Venezuela is not arousing much alarm. It should.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 5/18/2011, 6:52 PM / Last Update: 5/18/2011, 9:34 PM

If one checks on stories dealing with Venezuela, the most prominent item concerns an autographed guitar by the Colombian singer Shakira. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman, claims that the guitar was dedicated to the Venezuelan ruler by the singer. Not so, claim Shakira's entourage. 6 guitars were signed and given to the concert organizers and one of them found its way back to Chavez without any intention on Shakira's part of dedicating a guitar to him.

There are other topics of concern, such as the Venezuelan economy, the electricity shortage and the view from the Caracas slums.

All these stories and particularly the Shakira guitar are undoubtedly of major importance, but it is still perplexing to see that the scoop published by the reputable German newspaper Die Welt last Thursday is not making more waves. According to the German paper, the Iranian Revolutionary guards are constructing missile bases on Venezuelan territory 120 miles from the Colombian border. These missile bases will be deep below ground to protect them against a potential strike. The story is exciting conservative bloggers and has been picked up by several news sites.

The story should be read in the context of reports that the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr built by Russia is operational and that Iran and North Korea have collaborated on nuclear programs.

The parallel has been made between Venezuela and Castro's Cuba during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The analogy is a very good one. For one, this is an attempt to leapfrog the strategic balance of power.  John F. Kennedy, during the 1960 election campaign, accused the Republicans of allowing a missile gap. When he was elected, it was revealed that a missile gap did exist between the United States and the Soviet Union, but contrary to what was supposed, the gap was in America's favor.

The United States could bring to bear more nuclear warheads against the Soviet Union than the Soviet Union could muster to menace the United States. A possible equalizer was to place short-range Soviet missiles in Cuba where they would be capable of striking the United States, thus turning short-range missiles into the intercontinental ballistic missiles that were in short supply to the Soviets. For the Cuban Communists who had experienced the CIA sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, it provided them with a deterrent against another American sponsored invasion.

Iran has made no secret of its nuclear ambitions, although occasionally disguising them as peaceful exploitation of the atom. If Iran goes nuclear, it will confront the problem of a delivery system. While the North Koreans have supplied Iran with the technology for long-range missiles, the progress in antimissile technology and the recent American decision to go ahead with an antimissile base in Romania poses a problem for Iran. It may have the delivery capability, but notn ability to penetrate American defenses. Without penetration capability Iran cannot deter the US.

Positioning missiles in Venezuela brings American targets closer and cuts down United States reaction time for employing defensive measures against incoming missiles.

Like Fidel Castro,  Hugo Chavez is worried about an American invasion or an American inspired coup. Having an Iranian nuclear missile arsenal at his disposal presumably provides him with a deterrent. To carry the Cuban parallel to the ultimate, Chavez could perhaps secure a regime security agreement from the United States (no attempt at overthrow) in return for dismantling the missile bases.