DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — French naval forces seized thousands of assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank missiles in the Gulf of Oman in January, coming from Iran en route to Houthi rebels in Yemen, officials said Thursday, the latest such ban amid the nation’s long-running war in the Middle East.
While Iran did not immediately acknowledge the seizure, images of the weapons released by US Army Central Command showed them to be similar to other weapons captured by US forces in other shipments connected to Tehran.
The announcement comes as Iran faces mounting Western pressure over its shipment of drones to arm Russia during its war against Ukraine, and for its violent months-long crackdown on protesters. Regional tensions have also risen after a suspected Israeli drone attack on a military workshop in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Previous cycles of violence since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers have led the Islamic Republic to launch retaliatory naval strikes.
The seizure took place on January 15 in the Gulf of Oman, a body of water stretching from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. US Central Command described the ban as taking place “along routes historically used for the illicit trafficking of arms from Iran to Yemen”.
A United Nations resolution bans arms transfers to Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who seized the country’s capital in late 2014 and have been at war since March 2015 with a Saudi-led coalition that is the internationally recognized government of the country. country supports.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the seizure, identifying the troops involved as elite French special forces. A regional official with knowledge of the ban, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly about the details of the operation, similarly identified that the French carried out the seizure.
The French military did not respond to requests for comment about the weapons capture. The US Central Command did not immediately respond to questions about the seizure, nor did Iran’s mission to the United Nations. While France maintains a naval base in Abu Dhabi, it typically takes a quieter approach in the region while maintaining a diplomatic presence in Iran.
Iran has long denied arming the Houthis, though Western countries, UN experts and others have traced weapons ranging from night vision goggles, rifles and missiles to Tehran. In November, the US Navy said it found 70 tons of rocket propellant hidden between sacks of fertilizer aboard a ship destined for Yemen from Iran. Houthi ballistic missile fire has historically targeted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Images captured by US Central Command on Wednesday, analyzed by the AP, showed a variety of weapons aboard an unidentified ship apparently docked in a port. The weapons appeared to include Chinese Type 56 rifles, Russian Molot AKS20Us and PKM machine guns. All have appeared in other gun seizures attributed to Iran.
Central Command said the seizure included more than 3,000 rifles and 578,000 rounds of ammunition. The released images also showed 23 container-launched anti-tank missiles, which have also turned up in other shipments linked to Iran.
The war in Yemen has largely degenerated into a stalemate and has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. However, according to the Yemen Data Project, no Saudi-led airstrikes have been recorded in Yemen since the kingdom began a ceasefire in late March 2022.
That ceasefire expired in October, despite diplomatic efforts to extend it. That has led to fears that the war could escalate again. More than 150,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Yemen, including more than 14,500 civilians.
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