UK Navy seized smuggled Iranian missiles for first time at beginning of year

The UK Defense Ministry say that it confiscated Iranian made cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

 Iranian missiles and other weapons seized by HMS Montrose (photo credit: UK Defense Ministry)
Iranian missiles and other weapons seized by HMS Montrose
(photo credit: UK Defense Ministry)

The UK Navy seized Iranian missiles from smugglers for the first time in waters south of Iran at the beginning of the year, the UK Defense Ministry revealed on Thursday.

"The UK is committed to upholding international law, from standing up to aggression in Europe to interdicting illegal shipments of weaponry that perpetuates instability in the Middle East."

UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey

The weapon seizures occurred during routine maritime security operations on January 28 and February 25, and included rocket engines for the Iranian-made 351 cruise missiles and an arsenal of 358 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

"The UK is committed to upholding international law, from standing up to aggression in Europe to interdicting illegal shipments of weaponry that perpetuates instability in the Middle East," UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said in a statement. "The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption."

Counter-smuggling operation

The smugglers were reportedly operating speedboats in international waters early in the morning when the HMS Montrose's Wildcat helicopter spotted the vessels during a scan for illicit goods smugglers.

According to the Defense Ministry, Royal Marines boarded and searched the speedboats, and discovered the weapons. In the February interdiction, the United States Navy destroyer USS Gridley provided a Seahawk helicopter to give overwatch of the operations. 

 A type 358 surface-to-air missile seized by the US Navy in February 9, 2020. (credit: US Department of Justice) A type 358 surface-to-air missile seized by the US Navy in February 9, 2020. (credit: US Department of Justice)

"These interdictions demonstrate the professionalism and commitment of the Royal Navy to promoting stability in this region," said HMS Montrose Commanding Officer Commander Claire Thompson, 

The Iranian 351 cruise missiles have allegedly been used by Yemen's Houthi rebels to strike Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In mid-January, three people were killed and six injured in Abu Dhabi in drone and missile attacks launched from Yemen.

Iranian smuggling to Houthis

The UK Defense Ministry said that they seized the weapons in accordance with the 2015 UN Security Council resolution 2216, which imposed "a targeted arms embargo" including the Houthi.

The Houthis have engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Yemen," reads the 2022 UNSC  resolution 2624, which adds the Zaidi Shia Muslim group. "The Houthis have also perpetrated repeated cross-border terrorist attacks striking civilians and civilian infrastructure in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and threatened to intentionally target civilian sites."

Iran has been supplying the Houthi with various weapon platforms in their Civil War in Yemen, which has involved a coalition of forces led by neighboring Saudi Arabia. According to the US Justice Department, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been orchestrating smuggling efforts. These efforts have involved the use of speedboats of dhow sailboats.

 Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank Missiles seized by the US Navy on February 9, 2020.  (credit: US Department of Justice) Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank Missiles seized by the US Navy on February 9, 2020. (credit: US Department of Justice)
The United States Navy has endeavored to stop smuggling in the region alongside the UK in a 38-nation combined maritime force. In 2019 and early 2020, the US Navy seized 1.1 million barrels of oil and hundreds of missiles from several Iranian vessels in the Arabian Sea, representing the largest-ever American forfeitures of Iranian fuel and weapons to have been seized by the US government.
Like the UK Navy's operation, the American seizures also confiscated cruise missile parts and Type 358 SAMs — The latter weapon of which was reportedly unknown until the US Navy operation.
The weapons seized by the US were successfully legally forfeited, allowing the US government to take possession of them and if they choose, sell them.