Dubai: The U.S. Navy announced on Sunday that it had seized thousands of assault weapons, machine guns and sniper rifles on a ship in the Arabian Sea, apparently sent to Yemen to support the Houthi rebels in the country .
A U.S. defense official told the Associated Press that the navy’s preliminary investigation found that the ship was from Iran. Although the United Nations imposed an arms embargo, it once again armed the Islamic Republic and Huchit. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, although Tehran has denied giving weapons to the rebels in the past.
The seizure, one of several amid the yearslong war in Yemen, comes as the U.S. and others try to end a conflict that spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The arms shipment, described as sizeable, shows that the war may still have far to run.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey discovered the weapons aboard what the Navy described as a stateless dhow, a traditional Mideast sailing ship, in an operation that began Thursday in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan. Sailors boarded the vessel and found the weapons, most wrapped in green plastic, below deck.
When laid out on the deck of the Monterey, the scale of the find came into focus. Sailors found nearly 3,000 Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, a variant of the Kalashnikov. They recovered hundreds of other heavy machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as dozens of advanced, Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. The shipments also included several hundred rocket-propelled grenade launchers and optical sights for weapons.
The Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Middle East could not determine the origin and destination of the weapons. However, a U.S. defense official stated that these weapons are similar to other intercepted weapons that were forced to head toward Houthis.
The official said that based on interviews with the crew and investigations on the ship, the sailors determined that the ship was from Iran.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released,” the 5th Fleet said in a statement.
The seizure marks just the latest in the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden involving weapons likely bound to Yemen. The seizures began in 2016 and have continued intermittently throughout the war, which has seen the Houthis fire ballistic missiles and use drones later linked to Iran. Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports over years of conflict.
This recent seizure appeared to be among the biggest. Tim Michetti, an investigative researcher who studies the illicit weapon trade, also said the shipment bore similarities to the others.
“The unique blend of materiel recovered by the USS Monterey appears to be consistent with the materiel from previous interdictions, which have been linked to Iran,” he said.
The war in Yemen began in September 2014, when the Houthis occupied Sanaa and marched south in an attempt to occupy the entire country. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia joined the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the war with Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Iran supported Houthis, who harassed Saudi Arabia with missile launches and drone attacks.
According to the locations and events of the armed conflict, the war has killed approximately 130,000 people, including more than 13,000 civilians who were killed in targeted attacks.
The war saw atrocities in every aspect. The Saudis used bombs made by the United States to carry out air strikes, killing school children and civilians. The UAE has paid off al-Qaida fighters to avoid fighting and control prisons where torture and sexual abuse are rampant. The Houthis employ child soldiers and lay landmines indiscriminately.
Since 2015, the U.N. Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis. Despite that, U.N. experts warn “an increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in the Islamic Republic of Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.”