Secret Raid Seizes Missile Parts, But Leaves 2 SEALs Missing
A secret US Navy operation has resulted in the seizure of Iranian-made missile parts and other advanced weaponry bound for Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war. However, the daring high-seas raid also left 2 elite SEAL team members missing and presumed dead after they fell overboard under still-unclear circumstances.
According to US Central Command, the seized shipment contained 150 Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles and 3 Iranian-made surface-to-air missile systems. US officials called the haul the largest-ever seizure of Iranian arms bound for the Houthis, who are engaged in a bloody war against Yemen’s Saudi-backed government.
[Table summarizing key details of the raid]
|Date of Raid
|January 12-13, 2024
|Red Sea off the coast of Yemen
|Estimated 12-15 SEALs from SEAL Team 8
|An Iranian dhow-type ship
|150 anti-tank missiles, 3 surface-to-air missile systems, missile components
|2 SEAL petty officers fell overboard, status unknown
However, the daring nighttime raid also resulted in tragedy, as 2 SEALs – petty officers 1st class Timothy Delacruz and Jay Christopher Jones – fell overboard amid 15-20 foot seas and have not been found after extensive searches. They are now presumed dead in the line of duty.
Background: Iran’s Support for Houthi Rebels
The US and allies have long accused Iran of providing advanced weapons to Houthi rebels fighting Yemen’s internationally recognized government. Experts say Iran sees the Houthis as a cheap way to bleed rival Saudi Arabia next door without getting directly involved.
Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition backed by the US has been battling the Houthis after they captured Yemen’s capital and large swaths of the impoverished Arab country. The grinding war has killed over 150,000 people, including 14,500 civilians, per the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Despite a 2018 UN arms embargo, Iran has continued funneling missiles, drones, and other weapons to help the Houthis battle Saudi-backed Yemeni forces. US Navy ships have periodically intercepted and seized Iranian arms shipments in the region.
However, this month’s massive haul was by far the largest cache of new Iranian weapons captured en route to Yemen to date. A US official called it “the largest-ever seizure of weapons interdicted from Iran.”
Details Emerge on Daring High-Seas Raid
The weapons seizure occurred after a team of SEALs from SEAL Team 8 intercepted and boarded an Iranian dhow sailing vessel transiting the Red Sea near Yemen on the night of January 12-13th, US officials revealed.
Defense analysts say the vessel was likely a small, traditional dhow-rigged ship of the kind commonly used for smuggling in the region.
The SEALs fast-roped from hovering MH-60 helicopters onto the bobbing ship under cover of darkness. A firefight reportedly broke out aboard the vessel, wounding one SEAL.
Amid 15 to 20-foot seas, the SEALs successfully located and confiscated the illicit Iranian missile shipment hidden aboard the dhow.
But tragedy struck during the complex nighttime operation, as two SEAL petty officers fell overboard into the rough seas at some point and did not resurface.
The two lost SEALs were later identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Delacruz, 32, from Virginia, and Petty Officer 1st Class Jay Christopher Jones, 36, from Florida.
Despite extensive searches over 3 days covering thousands of miles, no sign of the SEALs has been found.
SEAL Community Mourns, But Vows to Press On
Within the tight-knit Naval Special Warfare community, the loss of two seasoned operators during such a daring mission against Iran has hit hard.
But current and former SEALs say the recent deaths – though tragic – will only redouble the commitment to confront threats like Iran.
“The demands placed on the SEAL teams have never been higher, but these warriors signed up to defend our nation against its enemies,” said retired Vice Admiral Sterling Jensen, a 37-year Navy veteran SEAL.
“Though we grieve the loss of these brave SEALs, their brothers will continue taking the fight to Iran and all those illegal weapon flows that threaten stability.”
Captain Bob Nielsen, commander of SEAL Team 8, also vowed to press forward against the threats posed by Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons to proxy groups.
“The Iranian regime continues supplying lethal aid to violent extremist organizations,” Nielsen told reporters. “Our efforts disruption these supplies advance the security of this region and the safety of its people.”
Fallout Expected for Biden’s Iran Policy
The high-profile raid also comes at a diplomatically sensitive time for the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the lapsed 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Talks have stalled in recent months, as the US confronts Iran over its ongoing support to proxies like the Houthis, regional militant groups, and its rapidly advancing ballistic missile program.
Now, this brazen SEAL operation exposing reams of new Iranian weapons destine for Yemen rebels is set to further strain tensions.
President Joe Biden is facing heated calls from Republicans and hawkish Democrats to end the nuclear talks with Tehran.
“How can Biden justify more concessions to this outlaw regime in Iran shipping missiles to kill innocents in Yemen?” said Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), who serves on Senate Armed Services Committee overseeing defense policy.
However, the White House is still pushing to revive the Iran pact to restrict Tehran’s nuclear program – if stronger limits can be negotiated on missiles and proxies.
With the recent public exposure of Iran’s illicit arms pipeline to Yemen rebels, Biden will likely face even stiffer domestic resistance to granting sanctions relief to Tehran.
Intensified Navy Operations Target Iran’s Smuggling Routes
This major Iranian weapons seizure is also likely to trigger an expansion of US and allied naval operations targeting ships illegally moving arms and dual-use goods related to weapons of mass destruction in the region.
The Navy currently leads periodic counter-trafficking patrols such as Combined Task Force 150 in the Arabian Sea region to curb piracy, narcotics, human trafficking, and weapons proliferation activities.
However, military officials say maritime patrols need to be enhanced with advanced intelligence surveillance capabilities like electronic eavesdropping gear and spy satellites focused on smugglers in the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea frequented by Iran.
beefing up sea patrols become a higher priority to curb Iran and state-sponsored terror groups across the Middle East and South Asia taking advantage of porous water routes to illegally obtain weapons components and ingredients for WMDs.
Congress is already pushing to fund expanded Navy operations aimed at tracking and interdicting Iranian arms trafficking by sea.
Outlook: Impact on Yemen’s Grinding Civil War
This record interception of new Iranian missiles and air defenses originally meant for the Houthis could impact strategic dynamics in Yemen’s intractable civil war.
For several years, Houthi rebels have employed Iranian-made ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones to attack Saudi coalition targets with some success.
Just last week alone, a Houthi missile strike killed 8 civilians in the southern Saudi province of Jazan.
But this latest 150 anti-tank guided missile systems and air defense equipment seized could have significantly boosted the Houthi arsenal.
“The Iranians keep supplying ever more lethal weapons that the Houthis are unleashing against civilian sites across Yemen and into Saudi Arabia,” said General Frank McKenzie, chief of US Central Command overseeing Mideast operations.
Now with this major shipment interdicted, access to precision strike capabilities like anti-tank missiles and air defenses could be constrained in coming months.
That might shift momentum on the battlefield back towards the Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces, as they press an offensive to capture strategic Marib province from Houthis.
But analysts say despite this raid, the stalemated conflict between Yemen’s warring sides will likely grind on for the foreseeable future.
The recent daring SEAL raid dealt a major setback to Iran’s campaign to sneak increasingly potent weapons to allied militant groups like Yemen’s Houthi rebels. But the success came at a steep cost, with 2 elite SEAL operators lost during this secretive mission.
Going forward, the US Navy and allies are poised to expand patrols targeting Iranian arms smuggling by sea to prevent Tehran from illegally spreading weapons of war across the already volatile region. However, the Biden administration still faces difficult tradeoffs balancing military pressure against diplomatic efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear program and regional troublemaking.
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