A leading U.S. newspaper says the outgoing American defense secretary has accused Iran of smuggling anti-aircraft weapons to militant allies.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Leon Panetta says Iran's trafficking of the weapons is responsible for a "dangerous escalation" of regional tensions.
Panetta told the newspaper that "when you start passing manpads around, that becomes a threat - not just to military aircraft, but to civilian aircraft." Manpads are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
The Journal says Yemeni officials intercepted a boat carrying the manpads on January 23. The newspaper said few shipments of the weapons had been intercepted before then.
The report quotes U.S. investigators as saying evidence indicates the missiles were supplied by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Tehran's paramilitary force.
The paper reports U.S. officials say the missiles were likely headed to northern Yemen's Houthi separatists, who are fighting the U.S.-backed government in Sanna.
The Wall Street Journal says the U.S., in an effort to counter the Iranian threat, is leading a multinational exercise in the United Arab Emirates through February 7 to improve the interdiction of Iranian arms and weapons.
Panetta told the Journal that the exercise is "critical" for building up Arab capabilities to help halt Iranian arms transfers, including the smuggling of manpads.
Panetta's interview with The Wall Street Journal comes as he is about the step down after 19 months as defense secretary.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.