by Austin Bay
May 11, 2021
To quote the U.S. Navy's official announcement, on May 6 the cruiser USS Monterey "seized an illicit shipment of weapons from a stateless dhow in international waters of the North Arabian Sea." The list of weaponry aboard the dhow included advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles, around 3,000 Chinese assault rifles, several hundred light machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers and "advanced optical sights."
On a battlefield, those weapons set could arm a light infantry brigade of 4,000 soldiers -- or guerrilla fighters.
"Stateless" is diplo-speak indicating the dhow had no flag or other sign of national origin. It suggests the dhow's crew had no valid cargo papers to show the U.S. Coast Guard Advanced Interdiction Team inspecting their vessel. When USN warships enter sea lanes plied by smugglers and pirates, they often have a Coast Guard team aboard with legal authority to address transnational criminal operations.
Smugglers prowl the north Arabian Sea (an arm of the Indian Ocean), moving narcotics, stolen electronics, even Persian rugs. But smuggling a calculated weapons mix like the USN seized?
Iran's dictators scream plausible deniability but their corrupt state planned, assembled and shipped the weapons.
Why? The junta is intrinsically violent. It has been on the State Department's state-sponsor of terrorism list since 1984. Iranian intelligence agents and special forces officers direct or finance violent "meddling operations" in at least 30 different countries while skimming money from drug smuggling and human trafficking.
The dhow, however, bore a war-fighting cargo.
Right now the regime is waging four proxy wars: 1) in neighboring Iraq, 2) in wretched Syria, 3) in Lebanon, and 4) in chaotic Yemen.
Cross off Lebanon and Syria, the dhow would have to transit the Suez Canal. Iraq and Iran share a land border; let trucks smuggle the guns.
The dhow's destination was Yemen, an Indian Ocean beach or a small port in the Red Sea.
For decades, Iran's dictatorship has seeded violence in Yemen. For over 15 years, it has armed and financed Yemen's major rebel group, the Houthis. Yemen gives Iran a second front in its slow war with Saudi Arabia. Iran supplies its Houthi proxies with armed drones and ballistic missiles, which the Houthis use to attack Saudi Arabia.
The Al Quds Force is the elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Quds Force controls Iran's international covert and proxy warfare operations and oversees ballistic missile units.
StrategyPage.com (full disclosure: I am a contributing editor) recently published a report arguing Iran's late 2020 decision to make a Quds Force general its ambassador to Yemen indicates Tehran is "giving the orders now" to Yemeni rebels. Quds Force officers "supervise Iranian support for combat operations and take a more direct role in running the war." The report links Iranian direction of the Yemen war to "the negotiations to end economic sanctions on Iran" underway in Europe.
The negotiations would also revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the ostentatious name former President Obama's administration pasted on its Iran nuclear deal.
My guess: The seized weapons were sent to beef up Houthi forces for a new offensive that's timed to affect those ongoing negotiations. Iran's offer as the Houthi offensive kicks off: We'll cool the war if you give us money.
On May 10, armed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy speedboats feigned ramming attacks on American vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. The Coast Guard Cutter Maui had to fire warning shots to disperse the "swarm." The swarming small boats try to cause collisions between the big ships. The U.S. flotilla included the USS Monterey.
Payback or coincidence? For years, Iran has feigned swarm attacks in Hormuz. War, terror and crime are what Iran's dictatorship does.
Obama's JCPOA never halted Iran's nuclear weapons program. It failed to penalize the Iranian regime's violent meddling and criminal operations. Ending economic sanctions will just give the mullahs more money to spend on proxy wars like the one in Yemen. Reviving the JCPOA will give the regime the bomb. To believe otherwise is delusion.