A photo of AK-47s seized while being transferred from the IRGC to the Houthis in Yemen

US Transfers Iran’s Seized Arms, Ammunition To Ukraine

Tuesday, 04/09/2024

Washington has supplied Ukraine with Iranian small arms and ammunition seized while en route to the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. 

According to a statement from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on social media, "The US government transferred over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, RPG-7s, and over 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces" on April 4. “These weapons will help Ukraine defend against Russia’s invasion.”

The arms and ammunition were confiscated from four "stateless vessels" between May 2021 and February 2023 while in transit from Iran's Revolutionary Guards to Yemen's Houthi rebels, CENTCOM revealed.

The US government obtained ownership of the munitions on December 1, 2023, through the Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture claims against Iran’s IRGC.

CENTCOM said it remains committed to collaborating with allies and partners to stem the flow of Iranian weapons in the region through lawful measures, including in violation of UN and US sanctions, and interdictions.

Since January, the US has intercepted multiple shipments of advanced weaponry destined for the Houthis in Yemen. These weapons violate international law and have been used to threaten international commerce.

On January 11, CENTCOM forces intercepted a dhow during a routine flag check. The vessel was transporting advanced weaponry from Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen “to resupply Houthi forces in Yemen as part of the Houthis’ ongoing campaign of attacks against international merchant shipping.”

“Seized items include propulsion, guidance, and warheads for Houthi medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), as well as air defense associated components. Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea,” CENTCOM said.

In late January, a US Coast Guard vessel operating in the Arabian Sea seized another shipment of advanced weaponry originating in Iran and destined for Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The Coast Guard team found over 200 packages containing components for medium-range ballistic missiles, explosives, drones, military communications equipment, and anti-tank missile launchers.

“This is yet another example of Iran’s malign activity in the region,” said Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM commander. “Their continued supply of advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis is in direct violation of international law and continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce.”

The Houthi rebels, who have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023, claim solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The maritime blockade aims to force a ceasefire on Israel but has expanded from targeting Israeli vessels to a global assault. The attacks began after Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called on Muslims in early November to blockade Israel.

The recent transfer to Ukraine mirrors a similar one conducted by Washington in early October when 1.1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition seized from Iranian forces en route to Yemen were given to Ukraine to address dire shortages in its defensive against Russia.

However, the delivery of artillery and air defense munitions to Ukraine has been hindered by Republican lawmakers who have delayed a $60 billion support package in the US Congress since last year. Consequently, Ukrainian troops have been forced to ration ammunition, uncertain of when further deliveries will occur.

Despite the obstacles, the United States announced a $300 million assistance package for Kyiv on March 12, encompassing anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, as well as artillery shells. This funding, sourced from reallocated savings from Pentagon expenditures, aims to sustain aid to Ukraine amidst the congressional deadlock.

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