France Seizes Iran’s Assault Rifles And Missiles Targeting Houthi Rebels In Yemen

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 from Iran targeting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, authorities said Thursday. .

While Iran denied involvement, images of weapons released by US Army Central Command showed they were similar to weapons seized by US forces in other Tehran-linked shipments.

The announcement comes as Iran faces mounting Western pressure over its shipment of drones to arm Russia during its war against Ukraine, as well as its months-long violent crackdown on protesters.

Regional tensions have also risen after a alleged Israeli drone attack at a military workshop in the central Iranian city of Isfahan on Saturday. Previous cycles of violence since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers have seen the Islamic Republic launch retaliatory strikes at sea.

The seizure occurred on January 15 in the Gulf of Oman, a body of water that stretches from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. CENTCOM described the interdiction as occurring “along routes historically used to illegally smuggle weapons from Iran to Yemen.”

A United Nations resolution bans arms transfers to Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who seized the country’s capital in late 2014 and have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition that backs the country’s recognized government. internationally since March 2015.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the seizure, identifying the forces involved as elite French special forces. Two officials with knowledge of the interdiction, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about details of the operation, similarly identified the French as responsible for the seizure.

Assault rifles and missiles seized by the French navy lay on the deck of a ship at an undisclosed location on Feb. 1, 2023. (U.S. Army Central Command via AP)

The French military did not respond to requests for comment on the seizure of the weapons. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani rejected in an online message the assessment that Tehran supplied the weapons on the ship, describing the allegations as “politically motivated.”

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 nations, 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 a missile fuel component hidden among bags of fertilizer aboard a Yemen-bound ship from Iran. Houthi ballistic missile fire has been directed at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the past.

Images taken Wednesday by CENTCOM and analyzed by AP showed a variety of weapons aboard an unidentified ship apparently docked in a port. Weapons appeared to include Chinese-made Type 56 rifles, Russian-made Molot AKS20U and PKM pattern machine guns. All have turned up in other arms seizures attributed to Iran.

CENTCOM 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 deteriorated to a stalemate and has generated one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. However, there have been no Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen since the kingdom began a ceasefire in late March 2022, according to the Yemen Data Project.

That ceasefire expired in October despite diplomatic efforts to renew it. That has led to fears that the war could escalate again. More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the fighting, including more than 14,500 civilians.

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