Guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) and patrol coastal ship USS Hurricane (PC 3) sail in the background as Sailors inventory a large quantity of urea fertilizer and ammonium perchlorate discovered on board a fishing vessel intercepted by U.S. naval forces while transiting international waters in the Gulf of Oman, Nov. 9.US Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Kevin Frus

Western militaries are carrying out raids on boats smuggling weapons from Iran to Yemen.

US Central Command has revealed a series of interceptions in recent months.

These seizures are an effort to apply pressure on Iran’s regime, experts say.

Western militaries have been regularly raiding boats attempting to smuggle weapons from Iran to Yemen, seizing massive amounts of explosives, guns, and ammunition.

These raids, Middle East and Iran experts say, are a coordinated effort designed to put pressure on Iran and derail its malign plans in the region.

Over the last few months, US Central Command has revealed a series of raids carried out by US or partner forces on boats, often derelict fishing ships, travelling along routes that have historically been used to traffic weapons illegally from Iran to Houthi rebels engaged in a civil war against Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

The Iran-backed Houthis have fought for years against Yemen, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, in a brutal conflict that experts have often characterized as a proxy war between regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia — both vying for influence. A fragile truce has kept tensions simmering for months, but the devastating war has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

CENTCOM said this month that it supported “partner naval forces” during a January raid in the Gulf of Oman. The interception, which was carried out by French special forces, took place along traditional smuggling routes between Iran and Yemen and saw the capture of over 3,000 assault rifles, 578,000 rounds of ammunition, and 23 advanced anti-tank guided missiles.
Thousands of AK-47 assault rifles sit on the flight deck of guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) during an inventory process, Jan. 7. U.S. naval forces seized 2,116 AK-47 assault rifles from a fishing vessel transiting along a maritime route from Iran to Yemen.

CENTCOM said that the raid is one of four “illicit cargo interdictions” over the past few months that resulted in the seizure of more than 5,000 weapons and 1.6 million rounds of ammunition before they could reach Yemen. The United Nations currently has an arms embargo on weapons going to the Houthis.

US forces in past raids have captured thousands of AK-47 assault rifles and a “massive amount” of explosive material used to fuel ballistic missiles. UK naval forces also seized surface-to-air missiles and cruise-missile rocket engines that came from Iran.
‘This is not a coincidence’

Although these raids are not new, they have increased in frequency in recent years as Western nations turn up the pressure on Tehran.

The US and its partners have been “ramping up their interceptions of Iranian supplied weapons, particularly heading to Yemen, over the last few years at least,” Michelle Grisé, who researches policy with a focus on Iran at the RAND Corporation, told Insider.

CENTCOM said that in 2021 it prevented 9,000 illegal weapons from arriving in Yemen, which was a 200 percent increase from the number of weapons seized in 2020.

But over the last few months, these sea raids have also coincided with major Western messaging against Iran. Examples of this include recent military drills between the US and Israel, another of Iran’s regional foes, and pressure in the European Union to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) a terrorist organization.

“To me, this is not a coincidence,” Alex Vatanka, the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, told Insider. “I think this is a coordinated effort” by the US and its European partners.

Vatanka said this campaign is “about putting pressure on Iran” to force the government to engage in meaningful talks around reviving the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “Not talks for the sake of talks, but talks that actually put the brakes on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.

The agreement, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), set out to restrict Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Former President Donald Trump controversially withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and attempted to apply a “maximum pressure” campaign to force Iran into a stricter deal involving military pressure and harsh economic sanctions.

It didn’t work, and Iran has slowly been taking steps in violation of the agreement — like increasing uranium enrichment levels — as European leaders try to revive the deal and the Biden administration expresses its openness to diplomacy.
The West wants to ‘shape Iranian calculations’

Because of Iran’s forward march toward the potential development of a nuclear weapon, there is an urgency to put pressure on Iran across the board, Vatanka said. Options include greater enforcement of sanctions and pushing back on regional influence — such as curbing the weapons transfers. Iran supports several regional proxies in addition to Yemen’s Houthis, like Lebanon-based Hezbollah — which the US State Department considers a foreign terrorist organization.

The West is “trying to shape Iranian calculations by putting the pressure on … different fronts — whether economic, or in the region in the case of the seizing of the weapons,” Vatanka said.

Gen. Michael Kurilla, the CENTCOM commander, has said that the transfer of weapons across international waters has a “destabilizing effect on the region,” adding that the US and its partners will continue to seize lethal aid wherever it comes from.

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces, said after a January interception that the shipments are “part of a continued pattern of destabilizing activity from Iran.”

It remains to be seen whether the increase in raids will actually impact Iran’s regional influence over the long-term.

Grisé said she doesn’t believe Iran will be deterred by the recent interdictions or that they will impact Iran’s relationship with its proxy forces in the region.

“What we’ve seen over the last few years is that Iran is really adaptable at adjusting to a range of Western efforts that are designed to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” she said, adding, “It is pretty skilled at circumventing things like sanctions and other efforts that are designed to counter its influence.”

One example of this, she explained, is that Iran has managed to include Western-made parts and components inside the deadly drones it sends to Russian forces, which have been using them to attack civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Source » yahoo