Venezuela has transferred at least one F-16 fighter to Iran in an attempt to help it calibrate its air defenses, in preparation for a possible Israeli or U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities, Haaretz quoted Spanish newspaper ABC as reporting.
ABC, one of the three largest Spanish dailies and aligned with the ruling rightist party, wrote that the transfer, in 2006, was supervised by one of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's closest aides. The paper's Washington correspondent, Emili J. Blasco, said the story was based on both sources in Venezuela's air force and classified documents, following a tip- off by a non-Western intelligence agency.
The timing of the story's publication was probably timed to coincide with the current visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Venezuela, which began Friday. Ahmadinejad told Chavez that Iran will always support Chavez's Venezuela: "We appreciate your opposition to imperialism," he said.
Chavez reportedly told his guest that "we are aware of the threats on Iranian sovereignty and independence. You can count on our support. I will support Ahmadinejad under all circumstances, since our ties with Iran are a holy issue for us."
In 1983, years before Chavez came to power, Venezuela purchased 23 F-16 fighter jets. At least half of these have been transferred in recent years to other states, in breach of the 1983 agreement with the U.S.
At least one F-16 was transferred to Iran in 2006. According to the report, the jet was disassembled and packed in several sealed and unmarked wooden containers. These were loaded on a Boeing 707 Venezuelan air force plane that took off from the El Libertador Air Base, stopping in Brazil and Algeria before landing in Tehran, where it was reassembled. Venezuelan pilots instructed Iranian pilots and technicians as to the jet's capabilities.
According to the news report, the F-16 was given to Iran so it could test its antiaircraft radar systems and become familiar with its capabilities, in preparation for a possible strike.
The trial flights in Iran were used to calibrate the Iranian air defense systems. Iranian officers also studied the speed of the F-16 on the radar screens.
It is as yet unclear how useful the jet fighter is for Iran's preparations, since the model transferred is relatively dated. The Israeli Air Force currently uses more advanced models fitted with Israeli electronic systems.
Apart from the plane supplied in 2006, information exists regarding further jet fighters supplied in 2009, when the director of the Venezuelan military industry paid a visit to Tehran. According to the ABC report, the minutes of the talks in Tehran, signed, among others, by Iran's Deputy Defense Minister, imply that Venezuela promised to speed up the transfer of more jet fighters.
Meanwhile, Iran's deputy chief of staff, Gen. Mostafa Izadi, said yesterday that an Israeli strike agains Iranian nuclear facilities would lead to the "collapse of the Zionist regime."
Izadi said that Israel "cannot harm Iran. If the Zionists attack us, they will be the ones annihilated in the end."