This is the first time such high-level missile components have been seized en route to the four-year civil war in Yemen, officials said, where Iranians support the Houthi rebels. The U.S. has repeatedly accused Iran of smuggling arms to the rebels, who are battling the Yemeni government.
A small Navy boat and a Coast Guard boarding team seized the weapons last Wednesday in the northern Arabian Sea. The weapons have been linked to Iran.
The Yemeni civil war has been seen as a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and as a means to quell Iranian influence in the region. In light of the violence, 20 million people have been rendered food-insecure, with half of those suffering extreme levels of hunger, according to a United Nations report from February.
The seizure came just as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss counterbalancing Iran.
According to officials, the USS Forrest Sherman, part of the Harry S. Truman strike group operating in the region, was conducting routine maritime operations when sailors noticed a small wooden boat that was not displaying a flag from any country.
Navy and Coast Guard personnel stopped the boat and boarded it for inspection when they found the weapons. They did not determine an exact number but asserted it was a significant cache.
They said the small boat was towed to port and the boat’s crew was transferred to the Yemeni Coast Guard. The weapons are being stored on the American warship.
Fox News‘ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.