British warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — A British Royal Navy vessel seized a sophisticated shipment of Iranian missiles in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, officials said on Thursday, pointing to the ban as evidence of Tehran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the country besieged.
The British government’s statement is striking in that it provides some of the strongest findings yet that Tehran is arming the Houthis against the Saudi-led military coalition with advanced weapons smuggled across the Persian Gulf. .
The British Embassy in the United Arab Emirates described the seizure of surface-to-air missiles and land attack cruise missile engines as “the first time a British warship has interdicted a ship carrying weapons so sophisticated from Iran”.
“The UK will continue to work towards a lasting peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can pass through safely without threat of disruption,” said James Heappey, Minister of the Armed Forces.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations dismissed the UK’s findings as “baseless”, saying Iran had “never transported weapons or military equipment to Yemen” in violation of the UN arms embargo and “has always complied with its international obligations”.
The British government’s announcement signals an escalation as Western officials have in the past avoided public statements definitively accusing Iran of arming Yemen’s Houthis with military contraband. The route of smuggling shipments through the Arabian Sea or the Gulf of Aden, however, strongly suggested their destination.
Despite a UN Security Council-imposed arms embargo on Yemen, Iran has long been suspected of transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis from the start. of the disastrous war in 2015. Iran denies arming the Houthis, independent experts say nations and UN experts have traced components to Iran.
Citing a forensic analysis last month, the British Navy linked the batch of rocket motors seized earlier this year to an Iranian-made cruise missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers that it said the rebels had used against Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis also used the cruise missile to attack an oil facility in Abu Dhabi in January this year, the British Navy said, an assault that killed three people and threatened the reputation of the key US ally in as a haven of stability. The US military launched interceptor missiles in the attack, signaling a widening war in Yemen.
HMS Montrose’s helicopter had been searching the Gulf of Oman for illicit goods on January 28 and February 25 when it spotted small vessels speeding away from Iranian shores with ‘suspicious cargo on deck’ . A team of Royal Marines then stopped and searched the boats, confiscating the weapons in international waters south of Iran.
A US Navy guided missile destroyer supported the British warship’s February operation. Fifth Fleet Vice Admiral 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 US weapons and intelligence, joined the war on the side of the Yemeni government in exile in March 2015.
Years of fighting have resulted in a bloody stalemate and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of starvation. A tenuous truce that began around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan appears to be holding, despite both sides accusing each other of violations.