US reveals its largest-ever grab of weapons shipment by Iran’s Guards

Surface-to-air, anti-tank missiles were taken from two ships in Arabian Sea in 2019 and 2020, as they headed to Houthi insurgents in Yemen, US Department of Justice says

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Iranian anti-tank missiles seized by the US Navy from a shipment heading to Houthi rebels in Yemen, February 9, 2020.
Iranian anti-tank missiles seized by the US Navy from a shipment heading to Houthi rebels in Yemen, February 9, 2020.

The US Navy made its largest-ever seizure of weaponry from Iran in a haul that included surface-to-air missiles as well as cruise missile parts, the US Justice Department revealed Tuesday.

The weapons were taken from two “flagless vessels” in the Arabian Sea that were delivering the cargo to Iran-backed Houthi insurgents in Yemen in 2019 and 2020, according to a statement.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, orchestrated the arms shipments, which were destined for Houthi militants in Yemen,” the statement said.

The haul was taken during “routine maritime security operation” on November 25, 2019, and February 9, 2020. It included 171 guided anti-tank missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles and “land attack cruise missile components, anti-ship cruise missile components, thermal weapons optics and other components for missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.”

In addition, 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum products were taken from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea as they headed to Venezuela, the statement said, without specifying when those seizures took place.

The FBI was also involved in the operations.

The US government sold the petroleum products for over $26 million, some of which may be transferred to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

Iranian surface-to-air missiles seized by the US Navy from a shipment heading to Houthi rebels in Yemen, February 9, 2020. (US Department of Justice)

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division called the maritime actions “a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

“The Department of Justice will continue to use all available tools to combat the threats posed by terrorist organizations and all those who seek to harm the United States and its allies,” he said.

The US has identified the IRGC as a terrorist organization since the administration of former US president Donald Trump.

The revelation of the weapons seizure came as Iran and world powers held negotiations in Vienna to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

After the US pulled out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018 and restored stiff sanctions, in particular on Iranian oil exports, Iran responded by dropping some of its own commitments to the deal, increasing it enriched uranium purity and stockpiles beyond the pact’s limits.

The US has in the past sold Iranian oil it seized from tankers.

Documents released in May showed the US sold some 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil after seizing an oil tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates earlier in the year.

The oil came from the MT Achilleas, a ship seized in February by the US off the coast of the Emirati port city of Fujairah. US court documents allege the Achilleas was subject to forfeiture under American anti-terrorism statutes as Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard tried to use it to sell crude oil to China.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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