UK navy intercepts ‘Iran missiles’ likely headed for Yemen
Iran has long been accused of smuggling weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, with French and US ships also seizing shipments.
The British navy says it has seized anti-tank missiles and fins for ballistic missile assemblies during a raid on a small boat heading from Iran likely to Yemen, the latest such seizure in the Gulf of Oman.
The seizure by the Royal Navy, announced on Thursday, comes after other seizures by French and American forces in the region as Western powers increase their pressure on Iran, after the United Nations found that Tehran has enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
It also comes as regional and international powers try to find an end to the years-long war gripping Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, and as Iran arms Russia in its war on Ukraine.
The raid took place on February 23 after a United States aircraft detected a small boat heading from Iran, with a helicopter from the Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster giving chase to the vessel, the British Ministry of Defence said. The boat tried to re-enter Iranian territorial water but was stopped before it could.
Inside the boat, British troops found Russian 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, known in Iran as “Dehlavieh”, the US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British navy said.
Those weapons have been seen in other seizures suspected to be from Iran and bound for Yemen.
Also on board were small fins that the US Navy identified as jet vanes for medium-range ballistic missiles.
Iranian components have helped build a missile arsenal for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who took control of the country’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014, from the Saudi Arabian-backed government.
A UN resolution bans arms transfers to the Iranian-allied Houthis.
Tehran has long denied arming the rebels, despite physical evidence, numerous seizures and experts tying the weapons back to Iran.
“This seizure by HMS Lancaster and the permanent presence of the Royal Navy in the Gulf region supports our commitment to uphold international law and tackle activity that threatens peace and security around the world,” British defence minister, Ben Wallace, said.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the commander of the US 5th Fleet, said in a statement that this was the “seventh illegal weapon or drug interdiction in the last three months and yet another example of Iran’s increasing malign maritime activity across the region”.
Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the seizure. Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The war in Yemen has deteriorated largely into a deadlock and spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
However, Saudi-led air raids have not been recorded in Yemen since the kingdom began a ceasefire at the end of March 2022, according to the Yemen Data Project.
That ceasefire expired in October despite diplomatic efforts to renew it.
That has led to fears the war could again escalate.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the fighting, including over 14,500 civilians.