Dubai, Feb. 2 (BNA): Officials said today, Thursday, that the French Navy seized thousands of assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles in the Gulf of Oman last January, coming from Iran and destined for the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The long-running Middle Eastern nation war.
While Iran did not immediately acknowledge the seizure, photos of the weapons released by the US military’s Central Command showed that they were like other weapons seized by US forces in other shipments linked to Tehran.
The announcement comes as Iran faces mounting Western pressure over its shipment of drones to arm Russia during its war on Ukraine, as well as its months-long violent crackdown on protesters. Regional tensions also escalated after a suspected Israeli drone attack on a military workshop in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Reuters reported that previous cycles of violence since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers have seen the Islamic Republic launch retaliatory attacks at sea.
The January 15 takeover took place in the Gulf of Oman, a body of water that stretches from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The US Central Command described the interdiction as occurring “along historically used routes for the illegal smuggling of weapons from Iran into Yemen.”
A UN resolution bans arms transfers to Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who seized control of the country’s capital in late 2014 and have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing the country’s internationally recognized government since March 2015.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the takeover, with the forces involved identified as elite French special forces. A provincial official with knowledge of the embargo, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak publicly about the details of the operation, similarly identified the French as carrying out the takeover.
The French military did not respond to requests for comment on the seizure of the weapons. US Central Command did not immediately respond to questions about the seizure, nor did Iran’s mission to the United Nations. While France maintains a naval base in Abu Dhabi, it usually takes a quieter approach to the region while maintaining a diplomatic presence in Iran.
Iran has long denied arming the Houthis, although Western countries, UN experts and others have traced weapons ranging from night vision goggles to rifles and missiles to Tehran. In November, the US Navy said it found 70 tons of a missile fuel component hidden among bags of fertilizer on a ship bound for Yemen from Iran. Houthi ballistic missiles have targeted Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the past.
Images taken by US Central Command on Wednesday, and analyzed by the Associated Press, showed a variety of weapons aboard what appeared to be an unidentified ship docked at a port. The weapons appear to include Chinese-made Type 56 rifles, Russian-made Molot AKS20U rifles, and PKM machine guns. All of them appeared in the confiscation of other weapons attributed to Iran.
The Central Command said that the seizure included more than 3,000 rifles and 578,000 rounds of ammunition. The released photos also showed 23 anti-tank missiles being fired from the containers, which have also appeared in other shipments linked to Iran.
The war in Yemen has largely degenerated into a stalemate and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. However, no Saudi-led airstrikes have been recorded in Yemen since the kingdom initiated a ceasefire at the end of March 2022, according to the Yemen Data Project.
The cease-fire expired in October, despite diplomatic efforts to renew it. This led to fears that the war could escalate again. More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the fighting, including more than 14,500 civilians.