The U.S. Navy last week seized thousands of weapons aboard an Iranian ship likely bound for Yemen to arm Houthi militants.
A Coast Guard team launched from the USS Monterey flagged down and boarded the ship in the Arabian Sea for a routine flag verification and discovered thousands of Chinese rifles and dozens of Russian missiles, the Navy announced Saturday. An American defense official told the Associated Press the ship is of Iranian origin. Lt. Cmdr. Pete Pagano, a spokesman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet, told CNN Monday that the Navy has interdicted similar arms shipments in the area that were headed to Houthi militants. Navy officials are investigating the origin and intent of the confiscated weapons.
The weapons seizure occurs as the Biden administration lays out major concessions to Iran in hopes of rejoining the controversial 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has given no indication it will alter its aggressive behavior even as the White House works to reenter the agreement with the country.
Tim Michetti, an expert on illicit arms trafficking, said the seized weapons match a pattern of other shipments originating from the Islamic Republic.
"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," Michetti said.
The shipment also comes as Iran-backed Houthi rebels escalate their campaign against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. In April, Houthi operatives launched attacks on a Saudi Air Force base and oil field. The rebels have stonewalled peace negotiations and refused to meet with a United Nations envoy last week.
Just days after the Biden administration removed the Houthis' terror designation in February, the Iran-backed militia group bombed a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia. Tim Lenderking, the Biden administration's lead diplomat on the issue, said last month that Iran continues to provide "significant’ and "lethal" support for the rebels. The United States provided military aid to Saudi forces in the conflict until the Biden administration pulled support in February.