US Lays Claim To Ammo Seized From Iran, Alleges ‘Sophisticated’ Iranian Smuggling Operation

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. is seeking to keep fuses, fuel and more than one million rounds of ammunition seized from Iran in December, according to a Justice Department (DOJ) forfeiture complaint released Friday.

On Dec. 1, U.S. 5th fleet forces operating routinely in the Middle East discovered more than one million rounds of ammunition, nearly 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets and over 2,100 kilograms of rocket propellant disguised aboard a fishing trawler headed from Iran to Yemen, according to a statement. Friday’s forfeiture action, which means the U.S. will confiscate the weapons, is part of a larger investigation into a “sophisticated scheme” to “clandestinely ship weapons to entities that pose grave threats to U.S. national security,” DOJ said in a statement.

“The United States disrupted a major operation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to smuggle weapons of war into the hands of a militant group in Yemen,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the statement. “The Justice Department will be relentless in holding accountable those who break our laws and threaten our national security.” (RELATED: Biden Sells Missiles To The Country He Once Called A ‘Pariah’)

Providing weapons to the Houthi militants in Yemen violates international law and United Nations resolutions, according to the Navy. The Houthis, backed by Iran, have been waging a civil war against the Yemeni government and a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed international coalition since 2015, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of striking civilian targets and contributing to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Houthis have in turn struck civilian sites in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, jeopardizing U.S. interests, according to the DOJ and U.S. military.

The seizure in December revealed a wider Iranian weapons smuggling network by sanctioned Iranian entities, including those affiliated with the specialized Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to the DOJ release.

The flagless vessel transiting the Arabian Sea in December had sparked the U.S. Navy’s suspicions, the Navy said. After boarding to verify the vessel’s origin, troops discovered and confiscated more than 50 tons of illicit weapons.

“This significant interdiction clearly shows that Iran’s unlawful transfer of lethal aid and destabilizing behavior continues,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, the U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces said in the statement. “U.S. naval forces remain focused on deterring and disrupting dangerous and irresponsible maritime activity in the region.”

The month prior, 5th Fleet forces intercepted another fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman carrying more than 70 tons of explosive material, one of the largest recent seizures and enough to power at least a dozen medium-range ballistic missiles, according to a statement.

Another seizure in January confiscated 2,116 AK-47 rifles bound for Yemen, a statement said.

The U.S. military is considering rerouting weapons and munitions captured from Iranian-origin smuggling vessels to Ukraine, which is fast consuming ammunition in its battle to repel Russia’s invasion, The Wall Street Journal reported in February.

Meanwhile, Iran has evaded international sanctions against Russia, supplying Moscow with simple Shahed-line drones that explode on impact and larger Mojaher-6 drones capable of dropping bombs on Ukrainian positions and returning to base intact, The Guardian reported.

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