According to a statement released by the US Navy, weapons were seized in international waters of the Arabian Sea, between the coasts of Oman and Pakistan, south of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. They were found in below deck on a “dhow,” a traditional Middle Eastern sailing ship. The weapons were wrapped in green plastic.
The vessel was “stateless”, not being registered with any country.
The Navy statement says the original source and destination of the cargo is “under investigation.” But the AP reports that it has been told the weapons were from Iran and were headed for the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
An American defense official told The Associated Press that the Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran, again tying the Islamic Republic to arming the Houthis despite a United Nations arms embargo. Iran’s mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Tehran has denied in the past giving the rebels weapons.
Based on interviews with the crew and material investigated on board, the sailors determined the vessel came from Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
The ongoing war in Yemen is largely a proxy war being waged between Iran and Saudi Arabia/UAE, although the forces aligned with Saudi Arabia and the forces aligned with the UAE have clashed with each other as well. But both oppose the Houthi rebels backed by Iran.
On February 6, 2021, the Biden State Department announced that it was removing the “terrorist” designation from the Houthi rebels, as such a designation made it impossible for some humanitarian aid to reach large parts of the Yemini population from organizations like the UN. The Trump Administration had attached the “terrorist” designation to the Houthis just prior to the transition of power to the Biden Administration.
While that might seem like a wise decision from a humanitarian angle, it undermines the effort to de-legitimize Iranian efforts backing the Houthis — but maybe that was the goal as well.
In the grand scheme, this seizure probably does little to curtail the ongoing war in Yemen, as that country is the second most heavily-armed country in the world on a per capita basis — behind only the United States. But Yemen is also one of the poorest countries in the world, at the same time.
The Biden Administration is showing no signs of interest in trying to curtail Iranian hostility towards its neighbors in the Middle East. The only cost Iran might pay here is the financial loss in terms of the cost to acquire these arms. But, even in that respect, Iran might have simply paid for the weapons with part of the cash given to Iran at the end of the Obama Administration.
I guess you could look at it as the Obama Administration bought those arms, and the Biden Administration took delivery.
Maybe Biden can resell them to Venezuela and recoup some of the costs.