AL-MUKALLA: The US Navy has seized a cargo of more than 2,000 assault rifles being smuggled on a fishing boat from Iran to the Houthi militia in Yemen.
“This shipment is part of a continued pattern of destabilizing activity from Iran,” Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said on Tuesday.
A team from the USS Chinook, a Cyclone-class coastal patrol boat, boarded the traditional wooden sailing dhow in the Gulf of Oman last Friday. They found 2,116 Kalashnikov-style AK-47 rifles individually wrapped in green tarpaulins aboard the ship, said Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
The Chinook, along with the patrol boat USS Monsoon and the guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans, took possession of the weapons. They resembled other assault rifles previously seized by the Navy on the way from Iran to Yemen.
“When we intercepted the vessel, it was on a route historically used to traffic illicit cargo to the Houthis in Yemen,” Hawkins said. “The Yemeni crew corroborated the origin.”
The six crew will be repatriated to a government-controlled part of Yemen. “The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Huthis violates international law, Hawkins said.
The UN Security Council banned the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders in April 2015, the year after a Houthi coup sparked a civil war, and the embargo was extended to the whole group in February 2022.
Iran has always denied arming the militia, but Tehran has several times been caught red-handed transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis by sea. Independent analysts, Western nations and UN experts have traced components seized aboard other detained vessels back to Iran.
Last month the US Navy seized one million rounds of ammunition along with rocket fuses and propellant being smuggled on a fishing trawler from Iran to Yemen.
In November, the US Navy scuttled a boat transporting 70 tons of a missile fuel component from Iran to the Houthis hidden among bags of fertilizer, with enough power to fuel a dozen ballistic rockets.
In Yemen on Tuesday, Omani mediators arrived in Houthi-held Sanaa for the second time in less than a month for discussions with the militia’s leaders about renewing the UN-brokered truce that expired in October.
Oman, which hosts a number of Houthi leaders, is now spearheading international attempts to persuade the Houthis to de-escalate and cooperate with peace initiatives. So far the Houthis have refused to budge on their demands that the Yemeni government pay public workers in regions under their control and split oil earnings.
The Omanis began negotiations with the Houthis in November after UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg failed to persuade them to extend the truce.