by All Arab News Staff | May 10, 2021

Thousands of illicit weapons interdicted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey from a stateless dhow in international waters of the North Arabian Sea, May 8, 2021. The U.S. Navy announced on Sunday that it had seized a large arms shipment on a vessel in the Arabian Sea. The hidden arms shipment –discovered by the USS Monterey guided-missile cruiser – included Kalashnikov assault rifles, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In a tweet, the U.S. Fifth Fleet said the large weapons cache “included advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles & Chinese Type 56 assault rifles.” The illicit arms cargo is reportedly worth millions of dollars. The Navy’s raid on the suspicious vessel reportedly took place between May 6 and 7. The U.S. Navy had reportedly tracked the vessel for some 36 hours before confronting it. The Fifth Fleet conducts regular patrol security operations in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea.

Thousands of illicit weapons interdicted by guided-missile cruiser @USSMonterey (CG 61) from a stateless dhow in international waters of the North Arabian Sea on May 6-7.
Cache of weapons included advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles & Chinese Type 56 assault rifles.

While the Navy did not yet identify the origin of the shipment, it was reportedly heading toward war-torn Yemen making it likely that the weapons were shipped from Iran to the Iranian-sponsored Houthi terrorist militia in Yemen. Since 2015, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been fighting the Saudi-backed Yemenite central regime. Another possibility, but less likely, is that the arms shipment was linked to other Islamist militant groups operating across the Horn of Africa.

American authorities did not provide information on the origin of the crew on the vessel carrying the illicit arms cargo. However, they did confirm that “after all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released.” The Navy did not say whether the crew was aware of the illicit cargo on board the vessel. Alleged Iranian illicit arms shipments to the Houthi militia in Yemen is nothing new. In April 2016, the U.S. Navy prevented an alleged Iranian arms shipment from reaching the Houthis in Yemen. In 2019, the USS Forrest Sherman stopped another arms shipment in the same region. In February 2020, the USS Normandy stopped a large shipment of Iranian-made weapons transported by Yemeni fishermen.

Meanwhile, there are intense diplomatic efforts to restore the controversial Iran nuclear deal from 2015. However, progress has reportedly slowed due to wide gaps between Tehran and Washington on key issues. While Washington wants to improve the 2015 deal, the Iranian regime is unwilling to accept any changes to the original agreement. However, an anonymous U.S. official confirmed last week that a new agreement could be reached within weeks. “Is it possible that we’ll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It’s possible yes,” the official said.

While the nuclear talks naturally focus on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, they do not address the other components of Iran’s aggressive foreign policy including its expanding ballistic missile program and extensive sponsoring of terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, such as the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other pro-Iranian Islamist militias in Syria and Iraq.