The United Nations found thousands of weapons recently seized in the Arabian Sea confirms it came from a single port in Iran, evidence Tehran is exporting arms to Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and Syria, the Wall Street Journal newspaper has reported.
Yemen has been racked by war since 2014, pitting Iran-backed Houthi rebels against the internationally recognised government and a Saudi Arabian-led military force.
It is impossible to precisely quantify how much of the Houthi movement’s success is the result of Iranian support. A significant portion of Houthi assets have been generated locally: Large portions of their arsenal come from absorbing — by negotiation or coercion — units of the Yemeni military, as well as from looting national army stockpiles, forging alliances with tribal militias, and making purchases on the black market.
That said, growing Iranian support has certainly played an important role in helping the Houthis to become more powerful. In addition to providing the group with an increasing number of small arms, Iran has been delivering more advanced and lethal weapons as well. In many cases, Iran uses complex smuggling and procurement networks to provide more technologically advanced parts that the Houthis then combine with other locally acquired or produced ones. They assemble these parts into working weapons with technical assistance from Hizballah and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps advisers. This approach has allowed the Houthis to now field short and long-range drones and an increasingly diversified fleet of missiles capable of striking deep inside Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces have also used Chinese-made C-801 anti-ship missiles, with a range of 42 kilometers, for attacks on tankers in the Red Sea. These missiles were part of the national army’s arsenal prior to 2014 and were seized during the war. But they were quite possibly modified further with Iranian or Hizballah assistance.
Citing a confidential report by a UN Security Council panel of experts on Yemen, the Journal on Saturday wrote that boats and land transport were used to smuggle weapons made in Russia, China and Iran into Yemen.
The arms included rocket launchers, machine guns and sniper rifles, which had been seized by the US Navy in recent months.
“The mix of the weapons indicates a common pattern of supply, likely from government stocks, involving dhows [boats] in the Arabian Sea, which transport weapons to Yemen and Somalia,” the report said.
The UN imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis in 2015.
The United States as well as ally Saudi Arabia – which leads the military coalition backing the Yemeni government – have long accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
Iranian authorities did not immediately respond to the report. A Houthi official in Yemen denied it, calling allegations of Iranian weapon smuggling “an illusion”.
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