Dhow raids reveal Iran’s supply line of sophisticated missiles to Yemen’s Houthis

USS Forrest Sherman seized "351" land attack cruise missiles that matched those used against the Aramco sites. (US Central Command)
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Updated 21 February 2020

Dhow raids reveal Iran’s supply line of sophisticated missiles to Yemen’s Houthis

  • A "351" land-attack cruise missile matches weapon used to attack Aramco sites
  • US military raided two dhows in three months and found similar Iran-made weapons heading for Houthis

LONDON: Iranian cruise missile parts seized from a boat in the Arabian Sea matched those used in the attack on Saudi Aramco facilities, US military officials said.

The equipment was part of a shipment of sophisticated weaponry seized from a dhow in November destined for Houthi militants in Yemen. Another dhow carrying similar weapons was raided by the US Navy this month.

During a briefing Wednesday, Capt. Bill Urban of US Central Command, which is responsible for US forces in the Middle East, detailed the various missiles and other materiel discovered on the two boats.

One of the five, near-fully assembled Iranian-made "358" surface-to-air missiles.  (US Central Command)

The findings are the latest in an extensive body of evidence showing Iran supplying the Houthis with increasingly sophisticated weapons in breach of a UN arms embargo. They also show the extent to which Iranian weapons are being used to attack Saudi Arabia and other countries across the region.

Among the weapons found on board the dhow in November were anti-tank missiles, advanced “358” surface-to-air missiles and components used for land and sea cruise missiles, and drones, Urban said.

“This includes components of a ‘351’ land-attack cruise missile that matches the missiles used by Iran to attack the Aramco refineries in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last September,” he added.

The US believes the attacks on the Abqaiq processing plant and Khurais oil field were launched from Iran rather than Yemen, contrary to a claim from the Houthis that they had mounted the attack. 

The UN and Saudi Arabia have also dismissed that the drone and cruise missile raid came from Yemen in the south and instead hit the targets in the Kingdom from the north.

The attacks, which Iran denied carrying out, temporarily cut off more than five percent of global oil supplies.

Weapons seized by the USS Normandy in February included anti-­tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, and various electronic components for unmanned systems. (US Central Command)

The surface-to-air missiles seized in the November raid carried out by the USS Forrest Sherman also included links to the Aramco attacks. The weapons contained high-tech components that matched those in the drones used to attack the facilities.

The independent Conflict Armament Research made similar findings in a report published Wednesday that linked the drones used in the Aramco attack to Houthi drones in Yemen and Iranian drones recovered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Urban said the second dhow intercepted on Feb. 9 by the USS Normandy found 150 “Dhelavieh,” anti-tank guided missiles that are Iranian copies of the Russian Kornet. They also found three more of the “358” surface-to-air missiles, he said.

A US military official told the New York Times that the new weapon is designed to avoid US defensive systems and can shoot down military helicopters.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Iran has been smuggling weapons to the Houthis for at least five years since the Arab coalition, which includes Saudi Arabia, launched an operation to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government after the militia seized the capital Sanaa.

The increasing sophistication of the weapons will add to concerns that Iran is stoking the conflict as the UN attempts to broker a political solution.

“There is no doubt as to where these weapons came from or where they were going,” Urban said. “For the international community, the supply of Iranian weapons to the Houthis has often led to spillage of the Yemeni conflict beyond its borders.

“For the people of Yemen, the continual supply of Iranian weapons to the Houthis has certainly prolonged the conflict, delayed a political solution and increased the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

Updated 6 min 36 sec ago

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

  • Health personnel in protective gear took the temperature of disembarking passengers
  • Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.
The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late Sunday morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.
It showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.
The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport on March 18 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.
An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport waiting to transport the passengers.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army, he said.
Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month.
Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines has said flights would also land in Beirut on Sunday from Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan.
It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.
They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.
The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.
But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.
Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.
Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.
On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.
Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.
Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who can’t afford it.
The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive — $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example — because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.