British Royal Navy vessel seized a sophisticated shipment of Iranian missiles in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, officials said Thursday, pointing to the interdiction as proof of Tehran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the embattled country.
It was remarkable that the British government declared that Tehran had provided the most powerful evidence to date, indicating that Tehran has arm the Houthis in its fight against the Saudi-led military alliance with sophisticated weapons smuggled through Persian Gulf.
The U.K. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates described the seizure of surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles as “the first time a British naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran.”
“The U.K. will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption,” said James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
The announcement signals an escalation as Western officials have in the past shied away from public statements that definitively blame Iran for arming Yemen’s Houthis with military contraband. However, the route of the illegal smuggled cargoes through the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden strongly suggests their destination.
Iran was suspected in the transfer of weapons, such as rocket-propelled missiles, to the Houthis despite a United Nations Security Council arms embargo. This has been going on since 2015’s disastrous war. Although Iran claims it has never armed the Houthis’, experts from independent sources, Western nations and U.N. officials have tracked components to Iran.
The British Navy cited a forensic analysis that was done last month and linked the rocket engines it seized to an Iranian cruise missile of 1,000 km range, which the navy claimed the rebels had used against Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis also used the cruise missile to attack an oil facility in Abu Dhabi in January of this year, the British navy said, an assault that killed three people and threatened the key U.S. ally’s reputation as a haven of stability. The U.S. military launched interceptor missiles during the attack, signaling a widening of Yemen’s war.
The HMS Montrose’s helicopter had been scanning for illicit goods in the Gulf of Oman on January 28 and February 25 when it spotted small vessels speeding away from the Iranian coast with “suspicious cargo on deck.” A team of Royal Marines then halted and searched the boats, confiscating the weapons in international waters south of Iran.
A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer supported the British warship’s February operation. Fifth Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said the seizure reflected the Navy’s “strong commitment to regional security and stability.”
The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition armed with U.S. weaponry and intelligence joined the war on the side of Yemen’s exiled government in March 2015.
Years of fighting have ground into a bloody stalemate and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. Despite accusations from each side of violating the truce, it appears that a tenuous truce which was established around Ramadan, the Holy Muslim Month of Ramadan seems to have held.
Read More From Time