The US Navy announced on Saturday that it seized thousands of assault weapons, machine guns, and sniper rifles on a ship in the Arabian Sea. The vessel was from Iran and is suspected of transporting the arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen despite a United Nations arms embargo.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons aboard a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel in the Middle Eastern region, during an operation that began on Thursday. The ship was found north of the Arabian Sea, near Oman and Pakistan, containing weapons wrapped in green plastic hidden below decks. Iran did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The navy found around 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Soviet-designed AK-47, and hundreds of heavy machine guns and sniper rifles. Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles were also discovered, as well as hundreds of rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,” the US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement.
Thousands of illicit weapons interdicted by guided-missile cruiser @USSMonterey (CG 61) from a stateless dhow in international waters of the North Arabian Sea on May 6-7.
Cache of weapons included advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles & Chinese Type 56 assault rifles. pic.twitter.com/07Fv92vbrV
— U.S. 5th Fleet (@US5thFleet) May 8, 2021
Link to Iran
Seizures of illicit weapons in the region are not uncommon — they began in 2016 and have continued throughout the war. The Houthis have been suspected of firing ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia and use drones allegedly supplied by Iran. Iran has denied the allegations.
Tim Michetti, an expert in illicit weapons flows in Africa and the Middle East, said that the recently seized arms have similarities to previous seizures.
“The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,” Michetti said.
According to a CSIS Missile Defense Project report, Iranian components are smuggled from neighboring Oman into Yemen’s nominally government-held Mahra province, and then by small boat along the coast.
In the past, Iran has dismissed charges of supplying arms to Houthis as lies for the US to “continue their maximum pressure on Iran, advance their malicious goals and to extend the arms embargo on Iran.”