US Navy seizes large Iranian arms shipment earmarked for Yemeni Houthis
Does seizure signal that Washington is softening on Saudi Arabia in light of growing Iranian threat?
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by All Arab News Staff | December 9, 2021
Iranian surface-to-air missiles seized by the US Navy from a shipment heading to Houthi rebels in Yemen, Feb. 9, 2020. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)
The United States Navy seized two large caches of weapons in the Arabian Sea from the Iranian regime earmarked for the Yemeni Houthi rebels, the Justice Department in Washington announced on Tuesday.
The U.S. Justice Department described it as the “largest-ever forfeitures of fuel and weapons shipments from Iran.”
The record large illegal arms shipment reportedly contained some 1.1 million barrels of petroleum products, eights anti-tank missiles and 171 surface-to-air missiles sent by the regime in Tehran in support of its Houthi terrorist proxy in Yemen.
While the Biden administration has condemned Iranian-sponsored terrorism, it has until recently done precious little to stop it. In this case, Washington acted forcefully and reportedly directed $26.7 million from the sale of the seized petroleum to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.
The Biden administration has, until recently, largely refrained from taking sides in the devastating civil war in Yemen, urging both the Iranian-backed Houthis and the Saudi-backed government forces to end the hostilities.
The seizure of Iranian weapons seems to signal that Washington is increasingly losing patience with the Iranian regime and is gradually tilting in favor of the Saudi-led anti-Houthis forces.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen from the Justice Department’s National Security Division described the seizure as a major setback for Tehran.
“The actions of the U.S. in these two cases strike a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Olsen said.
While the American-Saudi relationship is complex, Saudi Arabia has been defined for decades as a U.S. ally and Washington protected the Saudi kingdom during the First Gulf War with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the early 1990s. However, unlike previous administrations, the Biden administration has so far displayed a cool attitude toward the Saudis, criticizing its considerable human rights abuses. In February, the Biden administration released an intelligence report blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, for approving the controversial murder of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
However, with tensions rising in the Middle East over the Iranian regime’s extensive terrorism export and illegal nuclear weapons program, the Biden administration appears to be reluctantly softening its stance on Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia.
In a released statement, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia condemned the recent Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia and described the Saudi government as “partners.”
“The U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns in the strongest terms the Houthi attack on Riyadh on Dec. 6. The Houthis’ attacks endanger innocent civilians, cities, and critical infrastructure. Through every attack, the Houthis demonstrate that they are not interested in peace. We reiterate our commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and stand united with our Saudi partners,” read the official U.S. statement.
However, Washington’s growing support of Saudi Arabia extends beyond favorable statements and there is a sense of urgency that the Iranian regional aggression needs to be stopped. The U.S. Senate recently approved a $650 million missile sale to the Saudis in a clear effort to strengthen Saudi military capabilities.
Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders, Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Republican Sen. Mike Lee tried to prevent the military sale to the Saudis by presenting a joint resolution against Riyadh.
“A message needs to be sent to Saudi Arabia that we don’t approve of their war with Yemen. By participating in this sale, we would not only be rewarding reprehensible behavior, but also exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” stated Paul, who is known for his strongly independent positions on different foreign policy issues.
However, the White House articulated its strong opposition to the ban on a military sale to Saudi Arabia which it said “would undermine the president’s commitment to aid in our partner’s defenses at a time of increased missile and drone attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia,” according to an official statement by the White House Office of Management of Budget.
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