DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based fifth Fleet is beginning to supply rewards for data that might assist sailors intercept weapons, medication and different illicit shipments throughout the area amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s arming of Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Whereas avoiding straight mentioning Iran, the fifth Fleet’s resolution to supply money and different items for actionable intelligence within the Persian Gulf and different strategic waterways might improve stress on the move of weapons to the Houthis as a shaky cease-fire nonetheless holds in Yemen.
Already, the Houthis have threatened a brand new allied activity drive organized by the fifth Fleet within the Crimson Sea, although there’s been no assault by the Iranian-backed forces on the Navy within the time since.
In the meantime, the fifth Fleet says it and its companions seized $500 million in medication alone in 2021 — greater than the 4 prior years mixed. The fifth Fleet additionally intercepted 9,000 weapons in the identical interval, thrice the quantity seized in 2020.
“Any destabilizing exercise has our consideration,” Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a fifth Fleet spokesman, instructed The Related Press. “Positively we have now seen within the final yr skyrocketing success in seizing each unlawful narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents one other step in our effort to reinforce regional maritime safety.”
The fifth Fleet’s new initiative launches on Tuesday by way of the Division of Protection Rewards Program, which noticed troops supply money and items for recommendations on the battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere after al-Qaida launched the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults. Since floor preventing has largely halted throughout the area, the fifth Fleet determined to attempt to use this system because it patrols the waterways of the Center East.
Hawkins stated operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi would man a hotline, whereas the Navy additionally would take suggestions moreover on-line, in Dari and Pashto. Payouts could be as excessive as $100,000 or the equal in autos, boats or meals for suggestions that additionally embody data on deliberate assaults focusing on Individuals, Hawkins stated.
It is unclear if the fifth Fleet’s uptick in seizures represents a return to transport after the coronavirus pandemic or a rise general within the variety of illicit shipments within the area. Traffickers usually use stateless dhows, conventional wood crusing craft widespread within the Mideast, to move medication and weapons.
One vacation spot for weapons seems to be Yemen. The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and compelled the internationally acknowledged authorities into exile. A Saudi-led coalition armed with U.S. weaponry and intelligence entered the conflict on the aspect of Yemen’s exiled authorities in March 2015. Years of inconclusive preventing has pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. A truce that started across the holy Muslim month of Ramadan seems for now to nonetheless be holding.
Regardless of a United Nations Safety Council arms embargo on Yemen, Iran lengthy has been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and different weaponry to the Houthis. Although Iran denies arming the Houthis, impartial specialists, Western nations and U.N. specialists have traced parts again to Iran.
Requested about whether or not new seizures might improve tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and medicines the Navy hoped to intercept underneath this system.
“That’s what we’re after,” the commander stated. “That’s not within the curiosity of regional stability and safety.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t reply to a request for remark. The U.S. Navy and Iran proceed to have tense encounters within the Strait of Hormuz, the slender mouth of the Persian Gulf by way of which a fifth of all oil traded passes.
The rewards program marks the most recent initiative underneath fifth Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who additionally launched a drone activity drive final yr amid tensions with Iran.
Cooper’s different effort, the Crimson Sea activity drive, has drawn criticism from the Houthis prior to now. The insurgent group, which has repeatedly denied being armed by Iran, didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the brand new Navy program.
Nonetheless, Ali al-Qahom, a Houthi official, tweeted final week that the rebels are monitoring elevated U.S. exercise within the Crimson Sea and Persian Gulf waters.
“Due to this, protection and confrontation choices are open,” he stated. “They and their diabolical tasks haven’t any place” within the area.
Related Press author Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.
Observe Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.