Amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s supply of weapons to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet is starting to award information that helps sailors stop arms, drugs and other illegal shipments across the region. could help.
The 5th Fleet’s decision to offer cash and other goods for actionable intelligence in the Persian Gulf and other strategic waterways, while avoiding directly mentioning Iran, could put pressure on the flow of arms to the Houthis because There is still an unstable ceasefire in Yemen.
Already, the Houthis have threatened a new Allied task force organized by the 5th Fleet in the Red Sea, although the navy has not been attacked by Iranian-backed forces since that time.
Meanwhile, the 5th Fleet says it and its allies seized $500 million in drugs in 2021 alone – more than the last four years. The 5th Fleet also intercepted 9,000 weapons in the same period, which is three times the number seized in 2020.
“Any volatile activity is our focus,” Commander Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet, told the Associated Press. “Certainly we’ve seen skyrocketing success in the past year in the seizure of both illicit drugs and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
The new initiative of the 5th Fleet began Tuesday through the Department of Defense Rewards Program, in which soldiers volunteered for tips on battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere after the September 11, 2001, attacks launched by al-Qaeda. Cash and goods offered. Since ground fighting has largely halted throughout the region, the 5th Fleet decided to use the program as it patrols the waterways of the Middle East.
Hawkins said operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will operate a hotline, while the Navy will additionally take online tips in Dari and Pashto. Hawking said payments for tips could be as much as $100,000 or the equivalent of vehicles, boats or food including information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
It is unclear whether the 5th Fleet lift in seizures represents a return to shipping following the coronavirus pandemic or an overall increase in the number of illegal shipments in the region. Smugglers typically use stateless dhows, a traditional wooden sailing craft common in the Middle East, to transport drugs and weapons.
One destination for weapons appears to be Yemen. The Houthis captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition armed with US weapons and intelligence entered the war on the side of Yemen’s government-in-exile. Years of inconclusive fighting have pushed the poorest nation in the Arab world to the brink of famine. A struggle that began around the holy Muslim month of Ramadan is still ongoing.
Iran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis, despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen. Although Iran has denied providing weapons to the Houthis, independent experts, experts from the West and the United Nations have traced Iranian components.
Asked whether the new seizures could escalate tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy expected to intercept under the program.
“That’s what we want,” said the commander. “It is not in the interest of regional stability and security.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. Tensions between the US Navy and Iran continue in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil trade passes.
The awards program marks the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid tensions with Iran.
Cooper’s other effort, the Red Sea Task Force, has drawn criticism from the Houthis in the past. The rebel group, which has repeatedly denied being armed by Iran, did not respond to a request for comment on the new naval programme.
However, Houthi official Ali al-Kahom tweeted last week that insurgents were monitoring an increase in US activity in the waters of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
“Because of this, the options for defense and confrontation are open,” he said. “His and his diabolical projects have no place in this area”.
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