The U.S. Navy seized 171 surface-to-air missiles, eight anti-tank missiles and 1.1 million barrels of petroleum products worth $261 million from two Iranian ships in the Arabian Sea in three separate instances since 2019, the Department of Justice said in a press release on Tuesday.
The Navy seized the weapons in November 2019 and August 2020 during what is called routine operations in the sea. The arms shipments were headed to Iran-backed militants fighting in war-torn Yemen, and were organized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the U.S. deems a terrorist organization, according to the DOJ.
Wednesday's announcement followed the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. issuing a final order of forfeiture for the arms shipments on Nov. 15, the DOJ wrote.
The petroleum was officially foreited in October 2021, after American officials won approval from a Washington, D.C., court to sell the fuel taken from four Iranian ships the year prior. The U.S. proved the Iranian military would have profited from the sale of the petroleum to militias in Yemen.
"The actions of the United States in these two cases strike a resounding blow to the Government of Iran and to the criminal networks supporting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," said Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general with the Justice Department's National Security Division.
Matthew Graves, U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., also applauded the Navy sailors for the seizure of valuable arms and fuel from an enemy country.
"These two cases demonstrate that not only can we disrupt the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' ability to finance its operations through petroleum sales, but we can also thwart its ability to use the proceeds of such sales to arm its terrorist proxies and export terrorism abroad," Graves said in the press release.
The U.S. and Iran have escalated tensions in the Middle East following the assassination of top general Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. Tehran struck an American military base in retaliation for his death that month, and the country has also been blamed for an October drone strike on a U.S. base in Syria and the seizure of a tanker in the Arabian Sea.
The U.S. is in the midst of indirect talks with Iran over potentially restarting a 2015 nuclear deal that limited Iranian nuclear development in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.