The United States has supplied Ukraine with more than a million rounds of Iranian ammunition confiscated in the Gulf late last year.
The transfer of the ordnance followed a civil forfeiture case pursued by the justice department to gain ownership on the grounds that the bullets were seized as they were being smuggled to Yemeni Houthi forces in violation of a UN arms embargo.
“With this weapons transfer, the justice department’s forfeiture actions against one authoritarian regime are now directly supporting the Ukrainian people’s fight against another authoritarian regime,” the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said on Wednesday. “We will continue to use every legal authority at our disposal to support Ukraine in their fight for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”
The justice department is also claiming forfeiture of confiscated weapons from other seized caches, including 9,000 assault rifles, 284 machine guns, about 194 rocket launchers and more than 70 anti-tank guided missiles.
The 1.1m 7.62mm rounds were seized on 9 December 2022 from a stateless dhow, Marwan1, by naval vessels of US Central Command. Thousands of proximity fuses for rocket-propelled grenades were seized as part of the cargo.
The US said the munitions had been sent by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and were bound for its Houthi allies in the Yemeni civil war. Since then they have been warehoused in the Middle East, and a forfeiture claim was launched in a US court in March. The US gained ownership on 20 July.
The transfer of seized Iranian weapons to Ukraine has come at a time of concern among western defence ministries over their continuing capacity to arm Kyiv in the face of a relentless war of attrition being waged by Russia.
“The bottom of the barrel is now visible,” Adm Rob Bauer, the Dutch chair of the Nato military committee and the alliance’s most senior military official, said on Tuesday at a conference in Warsaw.