French special forces boarded an Iranian smuggling vessel bound for Yemen and recovered thousands of assault rifles and anti-tank missiles this month.
A French warship halted a suspected smuggling vessel off the Yemeni coast on Jan. 15, sending French special forces operators to board and search the ship. The soldiers found over 3,000 assault rifles, 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 20 anti-tank guided missiles, according to The Wall Street Journal. The U.S. French and British navies have coordinated an effort to block Iran’s smuggling operations in the region.
Iran has sought to supply Houthi rebels in Yemen will lethal aid for months, even as the Yemeni civil war remains under a ceasefire.
The U.S. Navy seized more than 2,000 assault rifles and 50 tons of ammunition after halting another suspected smuggling vessel just days prior to the French operation on Jan. 6. The USS Chinook deployed a boarding team to a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Oman with support from the USS Monsoon and USS The Sullivans on Jan. 6, discovering a crew of Yemeni nationals.
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“This shipment is part of a continued pattern of destabilizing activity from Iran,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, said at the time. “These threats have our attention. We remain vigilant in detecting any maritime activity that impedes freedom of navigation or compromises regional security.”
The U.S. Navy routinely patrols common smuggling routes in the Gulf of Oman. Iranian vessels smuggling weapons to Yemen must travel east through the gulf before heading south to Yemen.
International law and the U.N. Security Council ban the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The U.S. Navy has a long history of interactions with Iranian vessels in the area as well. Three Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy vessels (IRGCN) confronted a U.S. convoy in the Strait of Hormuz in June 2022, with one of the vessels closing within 50 yards of the USS Sirocco.
“One of the IRGCN vessels approached Sirocco head-on at a dangerously high speed and only altered course after the U.S. patrol coastal ship issued audible warning signals to avoid collision. The Iranian vessel also came within 50 yards of the U.S. Navy ship during the interaction, and Sirocco responded by deploying a warning flare,” the U.S. Navy said of the incident.
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U.S. warships fired warning shots at Iranian boats during a similar encounter in May 2021.