French naval forces in January seized thousands of assault rifles, machineguns and anti-tank missiles headed from Iran to Yemen, officials have told the Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press news agency, the latest such incident amid the country’s long-running war.
While Iran did not immediately acknowledge the seizure, images of the weapons allegedly meant for Houthi rebels released by the United States military’s Central Command showed them to be similar to others captured by American forces in other shipments tied back to Tehran.
The US did not specify in its statement on Wednesday which forces had led the operation, merely saying it had “supported” a “seizure by partner naval forces”.
The announcement comes as Iran faces increasing Western pressure over its shipment of drones to arm Russia during its war on Ukraine, as well as for its violent months-long crackdown targeting protesters.
Regional tensions have also increased after a suspected Israeli drone attack on a military workshop in the central Iranian city of Isfahan.
The seizure occurred on January 15 in the Gulf of Oman, a body of water that stretches from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf, through to the Arabian Sea and onto the Indian Ocean.
US Central Command described the interdiction as happening “along routes historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully from Iran to Yemen”.
A United Nations resolution bans arms transfers to Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who took the country’s capital in 2014 and have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing the country’s internationally recognised government since March 2015.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the seizure, identifying the forces involved as elite French special forces. A regional official with knowledge of the interdiction, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity due to not having permission to speak publicly on the operation’s details, similarly identified the French as carrying out the operation.
The French military did not respond to requests for comment about capturing the weapons. (AlJazeera)