US Coast Guard Seizes Shipment of Suspected Iranian Weapons Parts Believed to Be for Yemen’s Houthis
US Coast Guard Seizes Shipment of Suspected Iranian Weapons Parts Believed to Be for Yemen’s Houthis

By Ryan Morgan

The U.S. Coast Guard recently intercepted a shipment of weapon components in the Arabian Sea that they believe were heading from Iran to Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast-response cutter USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. (WPC 1147) conducted a boarding action against a suspicious vessel in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 28. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) first announced the maritime raid on Feb. 15.

The Coast Guard Cutter’s crew, which has been attached to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, reportedly discovered more than 200 packages aboard the suspicious vessel. Among the packages were explosive compounds as well as components for medium-range ballistic missiles and unmanned underwater/surface vehicles. The packages also included military-grade communication and network equipment and assemblies for anti-tank guided missile launchers, among other military components.

If the weapons were indeed bound for the Houthi terrorists in Yemen, the shipment would violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216, a 2015 resolution that prohibits arms shipments to the Houthis.

“This is yet another example of Iran’s malign activity in the region,” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of CENTCOM, said on Feb. 15. “Their continued supply of advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis is in direct violation of international law and continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce.”

The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are a Zaydi Shiite group that has intermittently fought with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2004. While the Yemeni conflict has waned in recent months with moves toward a ceasefire in the country, the Houthis have turned their attention to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group, launching missile and drone attacks intended to hinder the Israeli side. As part of their efforts against Israel, the Houthis have also repeatedly attacked merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they believe are connected to Israel.

The U.S. government has intermittently characterized the Houthis as a terrorist organization. The Yemeni faction was listed as a foreign terrorist organization and as a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) entity in the final days of President Donald Trump’s presidency in January 2021. The Biden administration revoked the terrorism labels in February 2021 but reapplied the SDGT designation against the group amid the recent attacks on commercial shipping in the region.

The U.S. government has long suspected the Iranian regime of supplying and funding the Houthis. Iran has cheered the pattern of Houthi attacks but has previously denied arming the group or helping it plan its attacks.

The Jan. 28 maritime raid by the Coast Guardsmen came about two weeks after U.S. troops seized another shipment of suspected Iranian weapons in the Arabian Sea. That Jan. 11 maritime raid, which took place off the coast of Somalia, saw U.S. Navy SEALs seize propulsion, guidance, and warhead components for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles like those that the Houthis have used to target commercial shipping in the nearby waterways.

Two Navy SEALs went overboard in the high-stakes nighttime boarding action on Jan. 11. The elite special operations sailors were declared dead after a 10-day search effort.

Middle East Tensions

The Jan. 28 maritime raid comes amid a period of heightened tensions across the Middle East.

The Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attacks on Israel have served as a major inciting incident, prompting a retaliatory Israeli military campaign across the Gaza Strip. Amid the ongoing fighting in the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces have also clashed with the Hezbollah terrorist group along its northern border with Lebanon and have carried out targeted strikes further inside Lebanon and Syria.

The U.S. military, a prominent ally of Israel, has bolstered its force presence around the Middle East, positioning Marine and naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, launching military operations to intercept attacks targeting Red Sea traffic, and striking Houthi targets inside Yemen.

U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria have also faced dozens of rocket and explosive drone attacks since October 2023. The U.S. military has assessed that these attacks have come from a variety of Iraqi Shia Islamist groups with ties to Iran. One such explosive drone attack, on Jan. 28, killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded dozens more U.S. service members at the Tower 22 outpost near Jordan’s border with Iraq and Syria.

The Biden administration ordered a series of retaliatory strikes following the Tower 22 attack, hitting dozens of targets across Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic Resistance of Iraq (IRI), which claimed responsibility for the Tower 22 attack, is an umbrella organization representing many of the Iraqi Shia factions. Many of these same IRI factions have had prior ties to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an association of Iraqi state-sanctioned militias established to fight the ISIS terrorist group in 2014.

U.S. forces are deployed in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS and prevent its resurgence. While U.S. troops and Iraqi militia forces both ostensibly seek to counter ISIS, they have repeatedly come to violent blows over the years, and past U.S. military strikes against Iraqi militia factions have met criticism from the Iraqi government.

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