Britain and the United States confiscated Iranian weapons bound for Yemen during naval military operations on January 28 and February 25. The equipment included surface-to-air missiles and cruise-missile rocket engines that were on speedboats in the Gulf of Oman. “This is the first time a British Naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran,” the Royal Navy said in a statement on July 7.
A U.S. Navy destroyer supported Royal Navy forces in the second seizure in February. “This action demonstrates that we will not allow irresponsible and aggressive acts by Iran to go unchecked on land, sea, and air,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
The ships were interdicted along routes used to smuggle weapons to Yemen, where Iran has reportedly provided the Houthi rebels with arms. The Royal Navy alleged that the arms transfer contravened the U.N. arms embargo on Yemen, which has been embroiled in civil war since 2014. In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition intervened against the Houthis in turn escalating Iran’s support for the group.
“The U.K. is committed to upholding international law, from standing up to aggression in Europe to interdicting illegal shipments of weaponry that perpetuates instability in the Middle East,” said James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces. “The U.K. will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption.”
On July 7, Iran’s U.N. mission dismissed the British allegations as “groundless.” Iran has “never transported weapons or military equipment to Yemen,” it claimed in a statement. Britain, which has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia, has no “moral authority to make a claim” against Iran, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani said on July 8. By selling advanced weapons to the Saudi-led military coalition, “Britain has been a partner in the war and aggression against Yemen.” The following are statements from Britain and the United States on the arms seizures.
In early 2022, whilst on routine maritime security operations, Royal Navy ship HMS Montrose seized Iranian weapons from speedboats being operated by smugglers in international waters south of Iran.
The weapons seized included surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles, in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).
This is the first time a British Naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran.
The seizures, which occurred on January 28 and February 25, took place in the early hours of the morning. HMS Montrose’s Wildcat helicopter, equipped with state of the art radar systems, was scanning for vessels smuggling illicit goods. The helicopter crew spotted small vessels moving at speed away from the Iranian coast.
During the February interdiction, United States Navy destroyer USS Gridley supported efforts by deploying a Seahawk helicopter to provide critical overwatch during the operation. On both occasions, the Wildcat helicopter pursued the vessels and reported back to HMS Montrose that they could see suspicious cargo on deck.
A team of Royal Marines approached the vessels on two Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats before securing and searching the vessel. Dozens of packages containing advanced weaponry were discovered, confiscated and brought back to HMS Montrose.
“The UK is committed to upholding international law, from standing up to aggression in Europe to interdicting illegal shipments of weaponry that perpetuates instability in the Middle East,” said Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey.
“The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption.”
The seized packages were returned to the UK for technical analysis which revealed that the shipment contained multiple rocket engines for the Iranian produced 351 land attack cruise missile and a batch of 358 surface to air missiles.
The 351 is a cruise missile with a range of 1000kms, it is regularly used by the Houthis to strike targets in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and was also the type of weapon used to attack Abu Dhabi on January 17 2022, which killed three civilians.
On Friday 24 June, the Ministry of Defence hosted the Panel of Experts established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2140 (2014), which concerns the conflict in Yemen. The panel inspected the seized weapons and received a technical brief by the UK’s Defence Intelligence analysts.
“These interdictions demonstrate the professionalism and commitment of the Royal Navy to promoting stability in this region,” said HMS Montrose’s Commanding Officer Commander Claire Thompson.
“I am extremely proud of my crew – the Royal Navy sailors, aircrew and Royal Marines involved in these endeavours and the significant positive impact they are having in maintaining the international rules-based order at sea.”
The UK retains a permanent presence in the Middle East, with HMS Montrose having been deployed to the region since early 2019, actively supporting multi-national maritime security operations and protecting the interests of the United Kingdom and its allies. The ship operates under the control and direction of the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC), based in Bahrain.
In the wider Gulf, HMS Montrose regularly works alongside international partners as part of the 38-nation coalition Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). CMF is the world’s largest multinational maritime partnership, which exists to counter illicit non-state actors. HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, has taken part in numerous successful operations to seize illicit drugs in the Gulf of Oman, most recently in May. This year alone, the ship has intercepted nearly £100m of illegal narcotics.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Statement:
A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer supported maritime operations conducted by naval forces from the United Kingdom that resulted in the seizure of advanced weapons components during an interdiction in the Gulf of Oman, Feb. 25.
Coordinated efforts among USS Gridley (DDG 101), HMS Montrose (F236) and combined air assets led to Royal Navy forces confiscating surface-to-air missiles and cruise-missile rocket engines that originated from Iran, according to a statement released by the United Kingdom, July 7.
Small boats attempting to smuggle the weapons were intercepted by the Royal Navy in January and February. Gridley’s crew deployed an MH-60 Seahawk helicopter during the February interdiction to provide overwatch.
“We have a decades-long strategic relationship with the Royal Navy,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “Our continued collaboration on maritime interdictions in the Middle East reflects our extraordinary partnership and strong commitment to regional security and stability.”
The weapons were seized along routes historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to Yemen. The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Houthis in Yemen violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 and international law.
U.S. and UK naval forces regularly conduct regional maritime security operations to disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that can support terrorism and other unlawful activity. U.S. Navy warships operating in the Middle East seized nearly 9,000 illicit weapons in 2021.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and United Kingdom Maritime Component Command are headquartered in Manama, Bahrain. The two commands regularly partner to foster regional maritime cooperation, safeguard key waterways and uphold international rules-based order.
U.S. Central Command Statement:
Spokesman Col. Joseph Buccino:
“On February 25, a U.S. Navy destroyer supporting United Kingdom naval forces conducted an interdiction in the Gulf of Oman. The operation resulted in the confiscation of surface-to-air missiles and cruise-missile rocket engines originating in Iran. This action demonstrates that we will not allow irresponsible and aggressive acts by Iran to go unchecked on land, sea, and air. In this effort, we will work in support of and alongside our partners and allies, with whom we have decades-long strategic relationships.”
Photo Credit: Royal Navy (Open Government License)