US officials say Iranian-made weapons intended for Houthis were seized in raid

Jan 16, 2024, 4:33 PM

The USS Lewis B. Puller is seen in this file photo. The US Navy seized Iranian-made ballistic missi...

The USS Lewis B. Puller is seen in this file photo. The US Navy seized Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components from a vessel off the coast of Somalia last week that was destined for Houthis in Yemen, US Central Command announced on Jan. 16. (NAVCENT Public Affairs/U.S. Navy/File)

(NAVCENT Public Affairs/U.S. Navy/File)

(CNN) — The U.S. Navy seized Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components from a vessel off the coast of Somalia last week that was destined for Houthis in Yemen, U.S. Central Command announced on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, search and rescue operations remain underway for two SEALs that went overboard and are missing. One fell into the water due to eight-foot swells, and the second jumped in after them, according to protocol, a U.S. official told CNN Saturday. “We are conducting an exhaustive search for our missing teammates,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the commander of CENTCOM.

The seizure comes amid increasingly high tensions between the U.S. and Iranian proxies in the region. Last week, the U.S. and U.K. militaries launched strikes against Houthi targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, marking a significant response after the Biden administration and its allies warned that the Iran-backed militant group would bear the consequences of its attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The strikes were a sign of the growing international alarm over the threat to one of the world’s most critical waterways. For weeks, the U.S. had sought to avoid direct strikes on Yemen because of the risk of escalation in a region already simmering with tension as the Israel-Hamas war continues, but the ongoing Houthi attacks on international shipping compelled the coalition to act.

Impact of the strikes

The strikes destroyed less than a third of the Iranian proxy group’s overall offensive capabilities, a U.S. official told CNN, with the group maintaining the majority of its ability to strike ships in the Red Sea.

CENTCOM’s release on Tuesday said US Navy SEALs from the USS Lewis B. Puller boarded the dhow in international waters off the coast of Somalia. The U.S. seized “Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missiles components,” including “propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), as well as air defense associated components.”

“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea,” CENTCOM said.

“It is clear that Iran continues shipment of advanced lethal aid to the Houthis. This is yet another example of how Iran actively sows instability throughout the region in direct violation of UN Security Resolution 2216 and international law,” Kurilla said in the statement. “We will continue to work with regional and international partners to expose and interdict these efforts, and ultimately to reestablish freedom of navigation.”

Helicopters and drones participated in the operation. The small vessel was “deemed unsafe and sunk,” by the Navy.  It is being determined what to do with the 14-person crew in accordance with international law, CENTCOM said.

CENTCOM has announced the seizure of lethal aid going from Iran to Yemen on multiple occasions in the past. Last February, U.S. and French forces seized thousands of assault rifles and half a million rounds of ammunition heading to Yemen. In December, the US announced it would transfer thousands of Iranian weapons and ammo rounds that were seized in December 2022 and bound for the Houthis in Yemen to Ukraine.

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US officials say Iranian-made weapons intended for Houthis were seized in raid