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The UK announced Thursday that it seized “sophisticated” Iranian missiles from smugglers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year in what officials cited as evidence that Tehran is supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen.
With assistance provided by the United States Navy, Royal Navy HMS Montrose completed two separate seizures of smugglers operating speedboats off the coast of Iran on January 28 and February 25.
In direct violation of a 2015 arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council, traffickers were found to be carrying “dozens of packages” containing surface-to-air missiles and land-attack cruise missile engines.
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“This is the first time that a British Navy warship has intercepted a ship carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran,” the British Embassy in Washington, DC said in a statement.
On both occasions, a Wildcat helicopter launched from HMS Montrose and scanning the area during a routine check found ships departing from the Iranian coast.
After pursuing the ships with the air support of a US Navy destroyer MH-60 Seahawk helicopter, the USS Gridley, the British Marines approached the ships with rigid hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) before inspecting them.
“Dozens of packages containing advanced weapons were discovered, confiscated and returned to HMS Montrose,” the embassy said, adding that 358 surface-to-air and 351 land-attack cruise missiles were discovered.
The British Embassy also noted that the land attack cruise missile, which has a range of over 620 miles, is regularly used by Houthi rebels in attacks on Saudi Arabia.
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The missile was used in the attack of 17 January 2022 in Abu Dhabi, killing three civilians.
“These bans demonstrate the Royal Navy’s professionalism and commitment to promoting stability in this region,” said HMS Montrose commander Claire Thompson after the seizures. “I am extremely proud of my crew – the Royal Navy seamen, crew and Royal Marines involved in these efforts and the significant positive impact they are having in maintaining rules-based international order at sea.”
A group of experts hosted by the UK Department of Defense reviewed the seized weapons in coordination with a UN Security Council resolution and received a technical brief from British defense intelligence analysts.
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The US and UK have pledged to work together to stop Iran’s illegal arms smuggling into Yemen, which is the site of one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.
The eight-year war resulted in the deaths of some 377,000 people and the internal displacement of over 4.3 million Yemenis.