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.”

Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

Updated 10 July 2020

Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

CAIRO: As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s dam megaproject on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.
For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.
As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.
In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.
She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.
“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.
In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.
The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.
Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.
“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.
But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions.”
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.
Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.
On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.
“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.
“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.
Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.
“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you ... ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defense line along the Suez canal in 1973.
Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war.”
“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.
For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.
On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.
Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.
“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.
Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.
Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.
Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move El-Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.
Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions.”