WASHINGTON - Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accused Iran of an intensified campaign to destabilize the Middle East by smuggling anti-aircraft weapons to militant allies, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
"There is no question when you start passing MANPADS around, that becomes a threat, not just to military aircraft but to civilian aircraft," Panetta told the newspaper in an interview. "That is an escalation."
MANPADS are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Western officials have worried about the spread of such weapons and the risk they pose to airline passengers as well as to military helicopters and jets.
Yemeni forces intercepted a ship on Jan. 23 carrying a large cache of weapons - including surface-to-air missiles - that US officials suspect were being smuggled from Iran and destined for Yemeni insurgents.
"It is one of the first times we have seen it," Panetta said, referring to the seizure of MANPADS.