Intercepting Iranian Arms


The discovery of sophisticated Iranian weaponry aboard a Yemeni dhow in February 2020 replicates a pattern of Iranian arms smuggling that has enflamed violence in the Arabian Peninsula. 

A boarding party from the U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy intercepted the dhow in the Arabian Sea and seized an arms cache destined for the Houthis in Yemen. 

The illicit arsenal — which included 150 anti-tank guided missiles — violated a United Nations Security Council embargo on supplying weapons to Houthi leaders and their representatives. Among the seized weapons were surface-to-air missiles, thermal imaging scopes for launching nighttime attacks, and components for unmanned aerial and surface vessels. The anti-tank missiles appeared to be Iranian-made versions of Russian Kornet missiles.

“The Houthis have used these Iranian-designed systems to conduct lethal attacks against civil, commercial and military targets on the Arabian Peninsula,” said U.S. Navy Capt. William Urban, chief spokesman for U.S. Central Command.

The weapons bore the markings of other Iranian armaments seized over the years, including an arsenal discovered on a dhow by the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Forrest Sherman on November 25, 2019. That confiscation included advanced weaponry, such as land attack cruise missile components, 13,000 blasting caps and high explosive warheads.

The illegal cargos fit a historical pattern of Iranian arms smuggling that has stoked conflict in and around Yemen for at least five years, Capt. Urban said. He cited the attacks on Saudi Aramco plants in Saudi Arabia in September 2019 and the deaths of Egyptian fishermen when their boat struck a Houthi mine in the Red Sea in February 2020.

“There is no doubt to where these weapons came from or where they were going,” Capt. Urban said of the latest arms caches seized by Sailors.

The U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, is responsible for maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden. Ships like the USS Normandy conduct patrols to preserve freedom of navigation and deter and catch smugglers, pirates and terrorists. 

During the International Maritime Exercise in November 2019, the USS Normandy conducted visit, board, search and seizure drills with Sailors from Pakistan and Oman, two countries that have supplied ships to multinational naval task forces in the region. 

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