Light anti-armour weapons seized from a smuggling vessel near Yemen’s coast appear to have been manufactured in Iran, further suggesting that Tehran has had a hand in a high seas gunrunning operation to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.These findings are based on the photographs recently released by the Australian government.
The weapons, a selection of at least nine rocket-propelled grenade launchers, were among thousands of weapons seized by an Australian warship, the Darwin, in February from an Iranian dhow that was sailing under the name Samer.
The photographs of the weapons, a sample of the much larger quantity of arms, were obtained by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based international research centre, after a long open-records dispute with the Australian military.
Iran has been repeatedly accused of providing arms helping to fuel one side of the war in Yemen. The United States and other Western governments have provided vast quantities of weapons, and other forms of military support, to the embattled government and its allies in a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Matthew Schroeder, an analyst for the survey, said a study of the weapons’ characteristics and factory markings had showed that they match Iranian-made rocket-propelled grenade launchers previously documented in Iraq in 2008 and 2015, and in Ivory Coast in 2014 and 2015.
That finding follows a report late last year by Conflict Armament Research, a private arms consultancy, that said the available evidence pointed to an apparent “weapon pipeline, extending from Iran to Somalia and Yemen, which involves the transfer, by dhow, of significant quantities of Iranian-manufactured weapons and weapons that plausibly derive from Iranian stockpiles.”
They were among 81 launchers seized on the Samer by Australian sailors, part of a hidden cargo that included 1,968 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 49 PK machine guns, 41 spare machine-gun barrels and 20 60-millimetre mortar tubes — enough weapons to arm a potent ground force.
Although the evidence was not conclusive, Schroeder said, “the seizure appears to be yet another example of Iranian weapons being shipped abroad despite long-standing UN [United Nations] restrictions on arms transfers from Iran.”
With Iran observing three days of mourning following the death of former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, it was not possible to contact the government for comment. But on previous occasions, Iran has refused to respond to inquiries about the smuggling.