The first of five Iranian tankers carrying much-needed gasoline and oil derivatives docked in Venezuela on Monday, Caracas announced amid concern in Washington over the burgeoning relationship between countries it sees as international pariahs.
In a statement delivered on state television, Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami said the convoy was an expression of the Venezuelan people's self-determination and praised Tehran's friendship at a time of need.
What great fortune to have Iran in these times, said the minister, surrounded by members of the military leadership. Earlier, El Aissami triumphantly shared images on Twitter of the first ship, Fortune arriving at El Palito refinery on Venezuela's northwest coast. We keep going and WINNING! El Aissami wrote.
The United States has closely monitored the shipments, concerned that Iran and Venezuela - both under US sanctions - were taking their longstanding ties to another strategic level.
The Iranian tankers have run the gauntlet of US warships arrayed off the Venezuelan coast after Washington announced last month it was stepping up its naval presence, arguing there was an increase in organized crime.
Tensions between Washington and Caracas remain high following Venezuela's disruption last month of an abortive military assault by a group of mercenaries coordinated by a private US security company.
The US has stepped up sanctions against socialist President Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle, recently offering a US$15 million reward for Maduro accusing him of masterminding a drug-smuggling ring.
Washington and more than 60 other states accuse Maduro of stealing the 2018 elections and instead recognise his opposition rival Juan Guaido as interim president.
The vital shipment arrives at a time of chronic fuel shortages in the crisis-wracked South American country, exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown.
Gasoline is currently selling for up to three dollars a liter on the black market in Caracas, unheard of in a country where motorists are used to filling up for practically nothing.
The navy on Twitter said its ships were escorting a second tanker, the Forest, which it said entered the country's waters early Monday. The other Iranian tankers - Petunia, Faxon, Clavel and Forest - will arrive in the next few days, state television said.
The fleet is carrying around 1.5 million barrels of gasoline, according to press reports.