On February 9th an American destroyer in the Arabian Sea (northwestern Indian Ocean between India and Arabia) halted and searched a dhow because of information indicating smuggling. A search of the cargo revealed a large number of Iranian weapons (anti-tank missiles) and key components for larger Iranian missiles and UAVs as well as remotely controlled bomb boats.
The most interesting weapon on the dhow were the 150 Dehlavieh ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) which is basically an Iranian license built Russian Kornet. Saudi Arabia also builds Kornet under license.
The Kornet E is a laser-guided ATGM with a range of 5,000 meters. Development started in 1988 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 interrupted further work for several years. Kornet finally entered service in 1994. There were some major upgrades in the late 1990s and another (Kornet EM) in 2012.
The launcher has a thermal sight for use at night or in fog. The missile's warhead can penetrate enough modern tank armor to render the side armor of the Israeli Merkava or U.S. M1 tanks vulnerable. The missile weighs 8.2 kg (18 pounds) and the launcher 19 kg (42 pounds).
Kornet was successful and popular with export customers. Over 40,000 missiles have been produced so far. Among the first export sales were to a number of Middle Eastern nations including Syria. Most of the Kornets now found in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon are Iranian-built. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and other rebel groups captured some Russian and Iranian built Kornets in Syria. North Korea illegally cloned Kornet and released video of test firings of this Bulsae-3 ATGM in 2016.
Kornet got its first combat experience in 2003 as Iraqis used it against the invading Americans and British. Two M1 tanks and one M2 IFV were damaged but not destroyed by Kornet. That experience led Russia to improve the warheads with better armor penetration and top-attack capability. The top-attack feature is tricky to implement but very effective when it works. A top-attack missile is fired over the tank, not at it, and the internal guidance system has to sense when it is over the tank and detonate a downward-facing shaped-charge that penetrates the thinner top armor of tanks.
Saudi Arabia obtained its license to build Kornet in 2017 while Iran procured its license in 2012. While the Saudi-produced Kornets are only for Saudi forces, Iran has always exported its Kornets (called Dehalivieh) to many foreign pro-Iran militias and Islamic terror groups backed by the Iranians Quds Force (similar to the American Special Forces but used to support active terrorist groups). Thus it was no surprise to Israel, which first encountered Kornet in 2006 when Hezbollah used Russian made missiles (sold to Iran and transferred to Hezbollah) against Israeli tanks and destroyed or damaged 24 Merkava tanks. In 2011 Kornets showed up in Gaza where they were used to fire across the border at an Israeli school bus, killing one student and wounding an adult civilian. In 2014 Iranian Kornets were again used in Gaza where Hamas used many of them against invading Israeli forces. This time Kornet was not successful and 15 Kornets fired at Israeli tanks were all intercepted by the new Trophy ADS (Active Defense system). The Israelis destroyed the tunnels Hamas was building into or towards Israel and left. Israelis living along the Gaza border had to take precautions against the possibility of more Kornet attacks against them. Hamas no longer fired Kornet at Israeli tanks, which frequently patrolled the border. After 2014 a lot more Russian and Iranian built Kornets showed up in Syria, where Islamic terror groups often captured them and sometimes used them against Russian forces. Kornets were definitely used against the modern T-90 tanks Russian gave to the Syrian Army. The T-90 proved very vulnerable to Kornet.
Also in 2014 ISIL forces advancing into Iraq used captured Kornets against Iraqi Army M1 tanks, disabling several of them. Later that year Iraq purchased and used Kornet from Russia for use against ISIL vehicles.
While Iranian Kornets are described as built to defend Iran against American or Arab tanks during some future invasion, most of these missiles have gone to militias and Islamic terror groups who have used them against a wide variety of targets, most of them being unarmored.
The Iranian dhow captured in 2020 was taking its Kornets and other weapons to Yemen, where final delivery would probably be made by fishing boats carrying cargoes of weapons rather than recently caught fish. There are so many of these fishing boats off the Red Sea coast of Yemen that not all can be searched and the smuggler boats seek to appear less suspicious than the actual fishing boats. Iran pays what it takes to get this smuggling done and there are plenty of skilled smugglers in Yemen looking for work, no questions asked. Such cargoes used to be sent to Gaza on a regular basis but the Israeli-Egyptian blockade is tighter than ever and it is difficult to even get individuals or suitcases of cash into Gaza.