A Navy warship has seized a “significant cache” of Iranian guided missile parts that was on its way to Iranian proxy rebels in Yemen, US officials said on Wednesday. The officials believe it was the first time Iran has shipped this kind of sophisticated components to Yemen. The seizure of the weapons was carried out by a US Navy and Coast Guard Dauntless class patrol boat in the northern Arabian Sea. The announcement came at about the time Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was meeting in Lisbon, Portugal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the situation in Iran.
According to the same US officials, the guided-missile destroyer Forrest Sherman was conducting routine operations when it ran into a small wooden boat without a country flag. Navy and Coast Guard sailors boarded the boat for inspection and discovered the weapons.
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said a US warship inspection discovered a cache of weapons and advanced missile components, and “an initial investigation indicates that these advanced missile components are of Iranian origin.” He noted that “a more thorough investigation is underway.”
The US has accused Iran of illegal arms smuggling to the Houthi rebels who are at war with the Yemeni government. In the past, US warships seized less sophisticated weapons shipments from Iran to Yemen, but the missile parts seized now are far more advanced than those seized in the past.
A United Nations resolution bans Tehran from supplying weapons anywhere outside Iran without permission from the Security Council. Another UN resolution bans Yemen bans Houthi from receiving weapons supplies.
The mostly Shiite Houthis have been fighting the Yemeni military in a civil war that began in 2004. On January 20, 2015, the rebels attacked the presidential palace and the presidential guards surrendered. On January 22, 2015, the president and prime minister tendered their resignations to parliament. On February 6, the Houthis dissolved the parliament and put a Revolutionary Committee led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi in charge of the country.
Several states led by Saudi Arabia mounted a military intervention in Yemen, siding with the legitimate government in the temporary capital of Aden. The Saudis and their allies have been shelling Houthi positions from land and sea and hitting them with airstrikes.
On May 19, 2017, Saudi Arabia intercepted the first Houthi ballistic missile, which was followed by another one on October 27, 2017—aimed at the Holy Mosque in Mecca towards which all Muslim pray. On December19, 2017, a direct attack aimed at the Saudi royal palace by another ballistic missile was intercepted. The missile was identified as Iran-made. In June 2019 a Saudi-led coalition stated that the Houthis had launched 226 ballistic missiles so far.
Since last spring, the US has added to the region some 14,000 troops as well as ships, aircraft and other assets, to confront the a growing threat from Iran. The Pentagon is weighing sending several thousand more troops forces, including air, naval and ground personnel, and weapons systems.