U.S. military officials said Wednesday that the seizures of weapons by two U.S. Navy warships in the Arabian Sea in November and February included newly designed Iranian surface-to-air missiles among other weaponry bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Nov. 2019 boarding of a small boat by the guided-missile destroyer Sherman also seized components for the 351 land attack cruise missile — the same missile U.S. officials claim was used in mid-September attack on two Saudi Arabian oil fields.
Capt. William Urban, the lead spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told reporters Wednesday that the seized missile components were “relatively new” Iranian-manufactured missiles that have not been “widely distributed.”
Urban explained that the missile systems had not been seen in Yemen prior to the conflict. He said the shipments of the advanced weaponry fit a pattern carried out by Iran.
Urban said there have been six ship interdictions by American warships in the CENTCOM area of responsibility over the last five years involving illicit smuggling of arms to Iranian proxies in the region. Two of the ship boardings have occurred within the last four months.
The Sherman boarded a small vessel in Nov. 2019, and recently the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser Normandy interdicted a boat in February.
Urban told reporters that the recent seizures were not necessarily a sign of an uptick in Iranian operations to supply proxy militias across the region.
He said that ship interdictions in the CENTCOM are a relatively “difficult process” that sometimes involves luck due to the vastness of the sea and the relatively small ships smuggling illicit arms.
Among the seized weapons included more than 100 Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles. The Sherman captured components for the Noor anti-ship cruise missile, Urban told reporters.
Urban said Iran was behind the illicit smuggling of the advanced weaponry bound for Houthis in Yemen. Anti-tank missiles “don’t just walk away without the sanction of the Iranian government,” he said.
The ship seizures also included Iranian manufactured thermal imaging devices that have also been found across Syrian and Iraqi battlefields, Urban detailed.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.