A photo released by the U.S. military's Central Command shows what it is described as Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthi seized from a vessel in the Arabian Sea.

A photo released by the U.S. military's Central Command shows what it is described as Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthi seized from a vessel in the Arabian Sea. (U.S. Central Command)

Whenever our enemies use proxies to do their violent bidding, the U.S. has a need to build a case against them by collecting evidence supporting the connection. Unfortunately, this often translates into increased risks for our warriors on the battlefield. For example, when activated land mines or other explosive devices have been discovered, rather than destroying them in place, our bomb technicians have had to defuse them to collect intact evidence as to their source of origin. Most recently, this policy cost us the lives of two of our nation’s finest.

Since November 2023, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been disrupting the flow of commercial shipping through the Red Sea. This has been done by the use of drones and missiles that obviously are beyond the capability of the Houthis to have manufactured. While little doubt existed the source of origin for such weaponry was Iran, which has been supporting the Houthis for years, undeniable evidence was necessary to prove allegations of criminal activity.

On the night of Jan. 11, the USS Lewis B. Puller, operating in the Arabian Sea, came across a dhow — a small masted sailing vessel — off the coast of Somalia in international waters. It conducted a flag verification operation involving the use of helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and U.S. Navy SEALs. It mandated executing a complex boarding of the dhow, not only in darkness but in heavy seas as well.

Two SEALs were using scaling ladders to board the dhow. One SEAL was suddenly swept off his and into the sea by a huge wave. Without a second of hesitation, the second SEAL jumped into the churning waters to rescue him. Neither SEAL has yet been recovered.

As a search was conducted for the SEALs, the operation was completed. Despite the tragic loss of the two men, a treasure trove of incriminating evidence was recovered. It clearly linked Iran to providing the Houthis with various weaponry including missile warheads.

This was the first seizure of Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis since their attacks on commercial shipping began as well as the first seizure of Iranian-manufactured ballistic and cruise missile components by the Navy since November 2019. All of this was in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216 as well as international law.

This comes on the heels of Iran claiming responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Irbil, Iraq. Usually Tehran goes out of its way not to leave its fingerprints on acts of aggression in which it is directly involved via its proxies; however, in this instance the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps brazenly took credit for the attack, which, technically, qualifies as an act of war.

President Donald Trump had designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist group before leaving office only to have President Joe Biden remove the designation after he took office. This month, after finally accepting the Houthis for what they really are, Biden redesignated them as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity.

It tragically took the loss of two courageous SEALs to establish direct evidence of an Iranian link to Houthi terrorism. Additionally, we now have the IRGC boasting about its participation in an attack on our U.S. Consulate in Iraq. The mullahs have crossed the line. It is now up to the Biden administration to show the loss of the lives of these two SEALs was not in vain.

James Zumwalt is a retired Marine infantry officer (lieutenant colonel) who served in the Vietnam War, Panama and Operation Desert Storm. He is the author of three books and hundreds of opinion pieces in online and print publications.

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