Report: Iran supplies sophisticated IEDs to Houthi militias

Armed Houthi followers rally in Sanaa on June 14, 2015. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 26 March 2018

Report: Iran supplies sophisticated IEDs to Houthi militias

LONDON: Sophisticated improvised explosive devices camouflaged as rocks are Iran’s latest contribution to Houthi forces in Yemen, according to a report by a weapons-tracking group.
Based on six missions to Yemen over the last year, and comparisons with similar devices documented elsewhere in the Middle East, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) said the radio-controlled bombs were evidence of a “recent influx of technology.”
“Improvised weapons used by Yemen’s Houthi forces have been manufactured using the same, identically configured components as those recovered from Iranian-backed groups in Bahrain,” said James Bevan, executive director of the group. “CAR’s latest findings confirm consistencies in Iran’s military support, not only to Houthi forces but also to its proxies across the wider region.”
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against Iran-aligned Houthis after they seized control of the capital and other provinces, forcing the government to flee. The civil war has killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced more than 2 million people.
CAR, based in the UK, said most IEDs found in Yemen were rudimentary in design but there was an increase in more sophisticated devices. Its report presented comparative findings on explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) documented by CAR in Yemen and similar devices documented by field investigation teams elsewhere in the Middle East.
The IEDs recovered in Yemen featured EFPs, which were camouflaged to resemble natural rocks. These devices were armed by radio control and initiated using passive infrared switches, so they could be classed as RCIEDs.
CAR also found that the EFPs concealed in synthetic rocks resembled in design and construction other devices recovered in Iraq and Lebanon and which had been forensically linked to Iran.
“Multiple strands of evidence suggest that Iran orchestrated the transfer of technology and materiel to Houthi forces in Yemen to assist in the manufacture of RCIEDs,” the report, published today, said.
CAR said material it seized in Yemen was identical to components previously taken from the Jihan 1, an Iranian ship laden with arms and seized by Yemeni authorities in 2013. US and Yemeni officials said it carried a large cache of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles being smuggled from Iran to insurgents in Yemen.
“This confirms widespread assertions that the vessel was destined for Houthi forces in Yemen and would suggest that Iranian support to Houthi forces began as early as January 2013,” the report said.
CAR also pointed to large-scale production, saying that “identical construction, and the use of hand-annotated, serialized components, suggest that the electronics kits used in the Yemen RCIEDs were constructed in bulk and potentially in the same workshop.”
Tim Michetti, CAR’s head of regional operations for the Gulf, said the presence of these EFPs should not be a surprise given they had been found in other conflict areas. “The underlying thread connecting them is Hezbollah or other Iranian proxy groups,” he said.
The supply of weapons from Iran to Yemen has escalated tensions between Arab countries and Tehran.
Saudi Arabia and the US accuse Iran of exporting ballistic missiles to the Houthis, which are then fired at the Kingdom. In December, the US presented fragments from missiles fired at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport in November, which it says came from Iran in violation of UN resolutions.
Previous research by CAR has provided evidence of shipments of weapons on dhows from Iran to the Houthi militias.


Education in GCC region seeks a ‘new normal’ as coronavirus crisis drags on

Updated 27 min 50 sec ago

Education in GCC region seeks a ‘new normal’ as coronavirus crisis drags on

  • Schools across the bloc searching for a balance between health protection and instruction
  • Opinions differ over whether to reopen schools for the new academic year in September

DUBAI: For over a billion students around the world, something as mundane as going to school has been abruptly excised from their daily schedule for much of the academic year.

Following the spread of the coronavirus in early 2020, most countries closed their schools and other educational institutions in an effort to protect communities from the pandemic.

In February, Bahrain and Kuwait became the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to announce school closures. By mid-March, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE had suspended all educational institutions until further notice.

According to UN, 1.5 billion children and young people in 165 countries — or 87 percent of the world’s student population — were affected by such closures in March.

The challenge was even greater in the Arab region, where conflicts had already driven 13 million children and young people out of school. Global monitors confirmed that school closures caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affected more than 100 million learners across the region.

Five months later, with no specific COVID-19 medicine or vaccine around the corner, this grim situation persists. As schools remain closed for the summer holidays, there are clear differences of opinion over whether to reopen them for the new academic year in September.

“All schools exist to serve a community,” said Darren Gale, principal of Horizon International School in Dubai, adding “there is no right or wrong” when it comes to making this decision.

Gale believes that schools are much more than their buildings and divisions. “Whilst aspects of the physicality of school may look slightly different, the culture, ethos and expectations will remain the same,” he said.

Governments in the Middle East continue to work together with educational institutions to determine an optimal strategy on reopening schools and universities. A decision to welcome back students or to continue virtual education will be based mainly on the strict measures and protocols in place by the end of summer.

A picture taken on March 15, 2020 shows school buses parked outside a closed school in Dubai. (AFP/File Photo)

After all, one thing all parties seem to agree on when determining education’s “new normal” is that safety comes first.

“At the forefront of any school’s decision to open fully or as part of a blended model will be community health and safety, the ability to manage and suppress the possibility of transmission, and the ability to give as meaningful learning experience as possible within the context of a school’s campus,” Gale told Arab News.

What children will need in September is “strength in relationships,” he said. “The only new in the ‘new normal’ will be arrivals, movement through the school, drop-off and some groupings for lessons.”

Considering children’s adaptive nature, activities such as repeatedly washing hands, good hygiene and wearing a mask are no longer novel,  but part of the daily routine when leaving the house, he said.

“We should be reassuring children what will remain the same rather than solely focusing on what will be different. There needs to be a balance if we are going to be role models to children of how to effectively manage change.”

FASTFACT

GCC Education and COVID-19

- 87% Portion of world’s student population affected by school closures.

- 100m Students in Arab region affected by closures in March 2020.

- 50% Reduction in class size in many GCC schools due to reopen.

Expressing a view common among the region’s educators, Gale pointed out that schools should not be seen “as a standalone solution or the sole risk” to new outbreaks. Instead, schools are part of a community strategy to suppress the transmission of COVID-19, he said.

Bharat Mansukhani, managing director of International Schools Partnership (ISP) Middle East, says schools owned and operated by his group in the region have conducted school-specific risk assessments in preparation for the new year. Those assessments have been cross-checked against their schools in the US, Spain and Malaysia that have already reopened.

“There will be visible changes as the schools adhere to the guidelines provided by the authorities which will include, but not be limited to, temperature checks, masks for teachers and children aged 6 and above, smaller class cohorts, physical distancing, reduced bus capacity and an increased emphasis on washing hands and environment sanitization,” Mansukhani told Arab News.

ISP schools in the UAE and Qatar will focus on maximizing the time children can spend on-site while offering the broadest curriculum possible through a variety of flexible learning models, Mansukhani said.

“While our aim is to have all students on campus every day, our priority remains a healthy and safe environment for our entire community where learning is continuous and uninterrupted.”

A picture taken March 18, 2020 shows school buses parked in an open area after closure of schools in Riyadh amid measures to combat the novel COVID-19 coronavirus disease. (AFP/File Photo)

A similar mentality pervades nurseries catering to smaller age groups. Shaun Robison, governor of IDEA Nursery in the UAE, said the decision to reopen nurseries should be consistent with all other sectors in the country, noting that childcare centers, camps and hotel playgroups have reopened.

“Nurseries are an important function for a thriving economy that encourages dual-income households, and a female workforce,” he said. “Everyone is ready, and prepared to reopen.”

The same cannot be said of other GCC countries. While Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education has announced that schools will reopen on August 30, the decision depends on the health conditions in each of the country’s regions and communities closer to the start of the school year.

Each area will be issued a red, orange or green evaluation to indicate one of three scenarios: Full in-person attendance, a combination of in-person and online learning, and full-time virtual learning.

Class size will be reduced to 50 percent in various parts of the country depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

Tatweer Educational Transportation services Co., the ministry’s school transport provider, has urged students attending public schools that require their services for the upcoming school year to apply for seats ahead of time due to limited availability

A drone image taken on April 27, 2020, shows school buses parked in a lot in the Emirate of Dubai, during the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)

However, some parents would like distance learning to continue. “I really don’t think it’s a good idea right now when the world hasn’t yet found a cure. I’m not sure if I’ll be sending my son to school,” Amal Turkistani, a Saudi mother, told Arab News. “I would prefer that they continue schooling remotely, or part-time.”

Her view was seconded by another mother, Reham Al-Mistadi, who said: “It is difficult to have children attend school. They’re just kids, unaware of the importance of social distancing and using sanitizers.”

Meanwhile, Oman, which has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the GCC bloc, has not settled on whether to open schools or continue remote learning. A national survey was launched on July 12 to monitor the immunity levels of residents in order to help the government reach an informed decision on reopening schools, colleges and other facilities.

While governments continue to search for an appropriate solution in the next few weeks that ensures a smooth start to the new academic year as well as the safety of young people, many schools are prepared to jump on the virtual train to learning once again, if needed.

“The flexible education models that we have planned for at each of our schools ensures that we can adapt to any change in guidance, as well as any change in the overall situation related to COVID-19, without disrupting the delivery of the high-quality education our schools are known for,” said Mansukhani.

“We believe that if our school communities work together and adhere to the protocols put in place, then we will all be in a good position to minimize the risk of infection.”

As for concerned parents in Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority released a statement giving private schools and parents the power to determine the best educational model for the new year. The options are physical attendance of all students, scheduling lessons in staggered shifts or to continue part-time or full-time distance learning.

Only time will tell what the outcome will be.

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@jumana_khamis