US Coast Guard Seized Iranian Weapons In Red Sea Bound For Houthis In Yemen

STRAIT OF HORMUZ 05.23.2023 Photo by NAVCENT Public Affairs U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet / DVIDShub

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a vessel packed with advanced Iranian-origin weapons likely intended to resupply the Houthi rebels in Yemen, seizing the weapons, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Thursday.

Sailors on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. located and homed in on the smuggling vessel on Jan. 28, CENTCOM said. Once on board, the team discovered hundreds of packages of parts for medium-range ballistic missiles, explosives, sea drones, missile launchers and other equipment the Houthis could employ to threaten international shipping and naval vessels in the Red Sea. 

“This is yet another example of Iran’s malign activity in the region,” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM commander, said in the statement. “Their continued supply of advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis is in direct violation of international law and continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce.” (RELATED: Navy Identifies SEALs Lost During Search And Seizure Mission Near Somalia)

The Coast Guard boarding team confiscated more than 200 packages containing “medium-range ballistic missile components, explosives, unmanned underwater/surface vehicle (UUV/USV) components, military-grade communication and network equipment, anti-tank guided missile launcher assemblies, and other military components,” the statement read. The statement did not specify what happened to the weapons or the vessel’s operators.

In a previous instance on Jan. 11 when the U.S. military intercepted and seized illicit weapons, a specialized U.S. Navy team destroyed the equipment, took the crew into custody and sunk the smuggling vessel.

The January seizure was the first time the U.S. military had taken possession of Iranian-supplied advanced weaponry headed to the Houthi rebels since their assault on international shipping and U.S. Navy assets in the Red Sea began on Nov. 19, CENTCOM said. The last time the Navy seized ballistic missile and cruise missile parts of Iranian origin was in 2019.

The Navy was conducting a night-time flag verification on the unknown vessel, which previous reports said was recognized as participating in past illegal smuggling operations. Helicopters and drones supported the U.S. Navy SEALs team, CENTCOM said.

The Houthi rebels have now launched at least 46 attacks against Red Sea ships since Nov. 19, according to Politico. The Houthis began attacking international vessels and later U.S. and partner Navy vessels, linking their operations to Israel’s war against Hamas and aiming to impede U.S. support for Israel.

The Biden administration accuses Iran of enabling the attacks, providing the Houthi rebels with weapons, munitions, radars and other equipment used to facilitate the attacks.

In response, the U.S. and United Kingdom have conducted several rounds of large-scale retaliatory strikes on Houthi assets in Yemen associated with the attacks, while also targeting missiles and drones the Houthis were actively preparing to launch at ships transiting the Red Sea.

The latest self-defense action took place over the course of nearly seven hours Wednesday, as CENTCOM forces attacked seven anti-ship cruise missiles, three aerial drones and one explosive-laden sea drone poised to launch at ships in the Red Sea, CENTCOM said.

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