Iran Rouhani

US Navy Intercepts Iranian Weapons Bound for Yemen

US Central Command announced on Feb. 13 that the US Navy had intercepted an Iranian boat bound for Yemen. The dhow—a sailboat with two masts—was reportedly carrying 150 Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles, which CENTCOM said are Iranian copies of the Russian Kornet missile. Three surface-to-air missiles in addition to surveillance equipment and other weapons parts were also found on the boat.

‘These Weapons Were Determined to be of Iranian Origin’

“Many of these weapons systems are identical to the advanced weapons and weapon components seized by guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019,” a CENTCOM statement said. “Those weapons were determined to be of Iranian origin and assessed to be destined for the Houthis in Yemen, which would be in violation of a UN Security Council Resolution that prohibits the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis.”

The US military published video from the interception and photos of the weapons. A UN Security Council Resolution prohibits the transfer of arms to Houthi militias in Yemen, but Iran has long been accused by the international community of supplying the rebel faction. On the other side, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have supported the government of ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. 

Amidst the proxy war, a secessionist faction grew and terrorist groups Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have also seized the chance to join the mix. 

Pompeo: ‘The World Must Reject Iran’s Violence and Act Now’

The US has maintained a hardline view on Iranian involvement in the Yemen conflict. After the weapons seizure, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “The US Navy interdicted 358 Iranian-made missiles + other weapons components on their way to the Houthis in Yemen. This is another example of the world’s largest state sponsor of terror the Islamic Republic of Iran continuing to defy the UN Security Council.

“The world must reject Iran’s violence and act now to renew the expiring UN arms embargo on Iran,” he continued. 

For Pompeo and the UN Security Council, which includes China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the US as permanent members, an embargo on arms from Tehran is key to stopping the conflict that Iran instigates. However, it could also be viewed as a way to stifle the other side’s means of supporting itself in order to ensure victory for US allies. 

Iran’s Perspective

Iran views the arms embargo as yet another attempt to shut it out of the region, which means its primary regional adversary, Saudi Arabia, would reap the benefits.

Yemen’s Minister of Information Mummar Al-Aryani commended the US for intercepting the arms shipment as a welcome development. Al-Aryani said the Houthis are killing civilians, however evidence has shown both sides play a role in the massacre across the nation with Saudi and UAE-caused casualties much higher than those caused by the Houthi side. In fact, the growing collateral damage was a factor in the UAE’s decision to reduce its involvement in the conflict.

“We urge the international community and the UN Security Council to impose deterrent sanctions on the Tehran regime and exert pressure to (halt) arms and exports smuggling to Houthis,” Al-Ayrani said.

Iran’s Support of the Houthis

Iran has supplied weapons and technology to Houthis since 2015, Arab News reported, after Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened to support Hadi.

The UN held “crunch talks” in Brussels over the situation following the weapons confiscation. Arab News reported the international body considered “scaling back or suspending the deliver of vital supplies to millions of people at risk of starvation.” 

Such a move would hurt those who need it help the most—civilians—and would be unlikely to stop Iran’s efforts to help the Houthis. In fact, it may do the opposite by portraying the international community as the villain. In truth, cutting humanitarian aid would be aimed more at convincing the Houthis to scale down their war and, hopefully, encourage discussions of peace, possibly by forcing civilians to pressure Houthi leadership from within Yemen.

Notably, there was no mention in Brussels of the possibility of restricting supplies to Saudi-allied forces. Further sanctions against Iran were also not discussed and would be unlikely considering the delicate situation with the failing Iranian nuclear deal, which was provoked by a reinstatement of US sanctions.