US warship seizes advanced guided-missile parts of suspected Iranian origin

US officials have clarified that the guided-missile components were of Iranian origin.

Yemen's pro-government forces have said an Iranian ship carrying advanced missile parts was seized in an operation led by the US Navy. "The U.S. navy and navy forces of the Saudi-led Arab coalition had seized an Iranian ship in Yemeni territorial waters, carrying weapons to the Houthi group," an officer in the Yemeni forces said, according to Xinhua. "Parts of Iran-made missiles and various military components were found inside the seized ship," the officer added.

The ship was Iranian and was flying the flag of Iran, the Yemeni forces said, adding that the ship had Iranian crew. US officials also confirmed the confiscation of the Iranian vessel in the northern Arabian Sea. However, the US communique said the advanced missile parts were found in a 'stateless vessel'. The US however clarified that the missile components were confirmed to be of Iranian origin.

US Navy
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) transits the Mediterranean Sea in this August 31, 2012 handout photo. Reuters

Flagless vessel was 'dead in the water'

The US and its Middle East allies have maintained that Iran has been sending weapons and weapon parts to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and UAE, US allies, are engaged in a military conflict with the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The cache of arms was found by American patrol ship USS Forrest Sherman. The vessel was on routine maritime operations when it noticed a flagless vessel 'dead in the water' after having suffered engine failure. Further inspection of the ship unearthed the cache of missile parts.

Though the Yemeni government has seized smaller contingents of less sophisticated weapons allegedly sent by Tehran, the latest catch contained more advanced weapons parts suspected to be of a guided missile system. The missile parts bore the hallmarks of Iranian weapons that were used in Yemen or Saudi Arabia in the past, the official said, according to NBC.

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A Houthi militant carries his weapon during the funerals of Lutf al-Quhum, a prominent pro-Houthi religious singer, and a Houthi fighter in Yemen's capital Sanaa, February 18, 2016 Reuters

Simmering tensions

Simmering tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalated in September following a drone attack on Saudi oil facilities. The drone attacks claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels set alight two major oil facilities run by Aramco, causing major disruption in global supplies.

The drone attack, which Riyadh termed as the handiwork of Iran, caused large-scale fires at the refinery in the city of Abqaiq in the Kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province, as well as the blaze at the Khurais oil field, around 150 km from Riyadh.