US seizes Iranian weapons and oil worth millions in Arabian Gulf

Navy thwarted two attempts to smuggle arms to Houthis and also impounded fuel shipment destined for Venezuela

US authorities seized two arms shipments that included the '358' surface-to-air missile. Photo: US Justice Department of Justice
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The US government has won court cases related to the seizure of two large shipments of Iranian arms destined for Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.

It has also sold more than $20 million worth of oil that Iran covertly shipped abroad in defiance of US sanctions.

The Justice Department said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was behind the weapons shipments headed for Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The seized arms comprised 171 guided anti-tank missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missile components, thermal weapons optics and other missile and unmanned aerial vehicle parts.

The US Navy seized the weapons from two flagless vessels in the Arabian Sea on November 25, 2019, and February 9, 2020.

The US government then filed cases to make the forfeiture legal. A judge ruled in favour of the US government last month.

"In its opinion, the court found that the government had adequately alleged that the weapons belonged to the IRGC and that the IRGC constitutes an entity engaged in planning or perpetrating a federal crime of terrorism against the US," the Justice Department said on Tuesday.

It also said the US government had seized Iranian petroleum products from four foreign-flagged tankers in or around the Arabian Sea that were headed to Venezuela.

Officials described the case as "thwarting the nefarious criminal activities of the Iranian regime and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps".

In its opinion, the court found that the US had sufficiently proved that the petroleum products were critical to "furthering the affairs of the terrorist group’s enterprise".

After winning the court case, the US sold the petroleum products for $26.7 million. The money raised will be directed "in whole or in part" to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, the Justice Department said.

“This case is a success because of the hard work and dedication of a joint agency team [who]... have helped to curtail Iran’s campaign of violence and unrest throughout the Middle East,” said special agent in charge Michael Paul of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office.

The Houthi militia seized the capital of Sanaa in 2014, forcing Yemen's internationally recognised government to flee and call for assistance from allies to repel the rebels.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year to help government forces retake the country.

Since then, the northern Yemeni rebels have built a sophisticated drone and ballistic missile programme. Officials and experts say the programme has been made possible through Iranian support.

The US and others accuse Iran of shipping components across the Arabian Gulf to Yemen that the rebels then use to carry out attacks on Saudi Arabia and Yemeni government forces.

The seven-year war has created what the UN has called the world's largest humanitarian crisis.

Updated: December 08, 2021, 1:34 PM