Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen’s war

This Sept. 30, 2015 photo shows weapons and equipment confiscated from a dhow, aboard the deck of USS Forrest Sherman. A ship carrying illicit arms believed to be from Iran was intercepted last week off the southern Arabian Peninsula by a member of a US-backed naval coalition and was not registered with any country, the US Navy said Wednesday. The American description of the ship’s seizure conflicted in some instances with an earlier account provided by a separate Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Shiite rebels, which claimed it had foiled the smuggling attempt. (AP)
Updated 22 March 2017
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Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen’s war

LONDON/ANKARA/DUBAI: Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shiite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.
Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, say that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support.
This mirrors the strategy it has used to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.
A senior Iranian official said Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force — the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — met top IRGC officials in Tehran last month to look at ways to “empower” the Houthis.
“At this meeting, they agreed to increase the amount of help, through training, arms and financial support,” the official said.
“Yemen is where the real proxy war is going on and winning the battle in Yemen will help define the balance of power in the Middle East.”
Iran rejects accusations from Saudi Arabia that it is giving financial and military support to the Houthis in the struggle for Yemen, blaming the deepening crisis on Riyadh.
But Iran’s actions in Yemen seem to reflect the growing influence of hard-liners in Tehran, keen to pre-empt a tougher policy toward Iran signalled by US President Donald Trump.
Maj. Gen. Ahmed Assiri, spokesman for the Arab coalition fighting the Houthis, told Reuters: “We do not lack information or evidence that the Iranians, by various means, are smuggling weapons into the area.”
“We observe that the Kornet anti-tank weapon is on the ground, whereas before it was not in the arsenal of the Yemeni army or of the Houthis. It came later.”
Iran’s activities have alarmed Sunni Muslim countries in the Middle East, with one senior official from a neighboring country saying: “We want Iran to stop exporting Shi’ism in the region, whether in Yemen or elsewhere.”
A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after he was ousted from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis.
Government forces in the south and east hold most of Yemen’s territory, while the Houthis control most population centers in the northwest, including Sanaa.
A former senior Iranian security official said Iran’s hard-line rulers planned to empower Houthi militia in Yemen to “strengthen their hand in the region.”
“They are planning to create a Hezbollah-like militia in Yemen. To confront Riyadh’s hostile policies ... Iran needs to use all its cards,” the former official said.

Disruptive force

A Western diplomat in the Middle East agreed: “Iran has long been trying to cultivate portions of the Houthi militias as a disruptive force in Yemen.”
“This is not to say that the Houthis are Hezbollah, but they do not need to be to achieve Iran’s goals, which is to encircle the Saudis, expand its influence and power projection in the region and develop levers of unconventional pressure.”
Sources say Iran is using ships to deliver supplies to Yemen either directly or via Somalia, bypassing coalition efforts to intercept shipments.
Western sources say once the ships arrive in the region, the cargoes are transferred to small fishing boats, which are hard to spot because they are so common in these waters.
Favored areas are believed to include fishing coves around the port of Mukalla, even though that would require smuggled men or equipment to make a long risky journey to the main Houthi-controlled districts.
The coalition ejected Al-Qaeda from the area last year, but still cannot prevent the smuggling of weapons and people, according to sources familiar with the waters.
Assiri acknowledged the difficulties of policing 2,700 km of coastline around Yemen.
“You cannot observe this length of coast even if you bring in all the navies of the world,” he said. “If we stop movement of those small boats, this will affect fishing by normal people.”
From September 2015 until March 2016, the French and Australian navies frequently intercepted weapons which officials said were most likely bound for the Houthis.
A US defense official said Iranian weapons smuggling to the Houthis had continued apace since March last year, when the seizures stopped. The equipment included long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching deep into Saudi Arabia.
“There is no plausible explanation for these weapons’ appearance other than outside assistance. We assess that assistance has likely come from Iran,” the US official said.
Nic Jenzen-Jones, a military arms specialist and director of Armament Research Services, which has tracked Iranian equipment ending up in Yemen, also said quantities had increased.
“We have seen some more success in sea-based transfers over the last few months and I suspect the general uptick in the frequency of Iranian arms that we are documenting is partially a result of more successful deliveries by sea,” Jenzen-Jones said.
In a study of Iranian technology transfers to Yemen released on Wednesday, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said it had evidence showing that the Qasef-1 UAV drone was made in Iran and was not of indigenous design and construction “in contrast to Houthi statements.”
On Jan. 30, a Saudi frigate was attacked near the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, in an operation that Saudi official media blamed on the Houthis.
The US Navy said an unmanned remote-controlled boat laden with explosives rammed the Saudi vessel in the first known strike by a “drone” attack boat, and the Houthis had likely used technology supplied by Iran.
Jenzen-Jones said the quality of Iranian munitions had improved of late.
“Recent transfers of arms and munitions have also included Iranian Ababil series UAVs (drones), fitted with high explosive warheads and used by Houthis to engage high-value targets, such as radar and Patriot missile batteries,” he said.
Anti-ship and man-portable missiles were also suspected to have been transferred, he said.
In addition to the weapons, Iranian and regional sources said Tehran was providing Afghan and Shiite Arab specialists to train Houthi units and act as logistical advisers. These included Afghans who had fought in Syria under Qods Force commanders.


Global tech giant Samsung switched on to ‘new opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 min 57 sec ago

Global tech giant Samsung switched on to ‘new opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia

  • Lee on Sunday reviewed the progress of the Riyadh Metro Project which is being led by Samsung C&T

SEOUL: The heir to South Korea’s tech giant, Samsung Group, who is currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia, has stepped up efforts to grow business links in the Kingdom’s “land of opportunities.”

Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, wants to open up new business channels and diversify the economy on the back of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, officials told Arab News on Wednesday.

In his first visit to an overseas construction site, Lee on Sunday reviewed the progress of the Riyadh Metro Project which is being led by Samsung C&T, the construction and trading arm of the tech conglomerate.

Under a consortium with Spanish and French firms, Samsung C&T is responsible for building six subway lines covering 168 kilometers. Initiated in 2013, the project will be Saudi Arabia’s first public transportation construction work to be completed by 2020. During his site tour, Lee spoke to workers, calling the Middle East “a land of opportunities in the 21st century.”

FASTFACT

Samsung chief moves to grow business links, diversify economy under Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Leading the multinational group in place of his bedridden father, Lee Kun-hee, the tech chief added: “I’m very proud of you working on the site even during the Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving) holiday apart from your family members. I’m really proud of you. I’m confident your efforts will bear valuable fruit in the future.”

On Wednesday, Lee met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss measures for expanding business opportunities in a variety of fields, including technology, construction and energy, which are key to the Kingdom’s plan to build smart cities, a Samsung official told Arab News.

It was Lee’s second meeting with the crown prince in three months after the Saudi royal visited Seoul for talks with President Moon Jae-in and South Korean business leaders. During his trip, the crown prince signed an $8.3 billion (SR31.1 billion) economic cooperation pact in the fields of energy, automotive, and others.

“Vice chairman Lee met a range of Saudi officials to discuss issues of bilateral cooperation,” the official said. “The bottom line is Samsung is very much interested in Saudi’s economic reform plan from the traditional oil-dependent economy to a tech-based one and exploring fields of potential business opportunities based on the company’s state-of-the-art technology.”

Samsung C&T, in particular, has a competitive edge in so-called smart construction technology, which is expected to be suitable to Saudi’s roadmap to build smart cities. The official added that the engineering affiliate had applied Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to its new apartment complex in South Korea to add convenience, security and wellness to the living place.

Samsung has also been pitching its 5G wireless technology to Middle Eastern customer nations. Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of implementing a 5G network across the Kingdom in line with the Vision 2030 initiative. 

The up-to-date communication technology is believed to be more than 10 times faster than 4G.

Saudi Arabia has constructed 1,000 5G base stations and the fifth-generation network is expected to support 45 million IoT devices in the country.

“Samsung is at the forefront with global operators in bringing 5G benefits to consumers, industries and societies by helping them deliver 5G commercial networks,” said Jeon Jaeho, executive vice president and head of research, development, and networks business at Samsung Electronics.

Samsung’s investment in the Saudi-backed Vision Fund was also on the agenda for discussion, another Samsung source told Arab News. Japan’s SoftBank launched its first Vision Fund in 2016 after signing a deal with the crown prince to create the world’s biggest buyout fund. SoftBank has unveiled a second investment fund with the Saudi Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment on board.

The tech firm has also upped efforts to expand its foothold in Middle East markets and woo deep-pocketed customers amid flagging demand for premium smartphones worldwide.

In February, Lee met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. When the crown prince visited Samsung’s manufacturing facilities outside the capital, Lee showcased Samsung’s technologies of the 5G mobile communication network, semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

Under the strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution adopted in 2017, the UAE plans to build a nationwide 5G infrastructure before the Expo 2020 in Dubai.