AL-MUKALLA, YEMEN: The latest Saudi-led-coalition seizure of an Iranian arms shipment destined for the Houthis is further evidence of Iran’s destabilizing role in war-torn Yemen, according to government officials and experts.
“This is concrete proof of Iran’s involvement in Yemen,” Salem Al-Khanbashi, the deputy prime minister of Yemen, told Arab News.
At a press conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Monday, the Saudi-led coalition announced intercepting a dhow carrying hundreds of weapons, made in Iran, early this month, including missiles, sniper rifles and ammunition. The dhow was seized off the Yemeni coastal town of Mocha on the Red Sea and was heading to the Houthis, the coalition said.
The Yemeni government has swiftly demanded that the international community put an end to Iranian meddling in Yemen in their sending arms shipments that fuel the war to the Houthis.
“There must be strong punishments against this country that supplies Houthis with those advanced weapons,” Al-Khanbashi said.
Even before the start of the war 5 years ago, consecutive Yemeni governments accused Iran of smuggling arms to the Houthis, enabling them to keep fighting despite coming under heavy attacks by government and Saudi-led coalition forces. The Yemeni coast guard has intercepted many similar arms shipments off the Yemeni coast over the past several years.
This is concrete proof of Iran’s involvement in Yemen.
Salem Al-Khanbashi, deputy prime minister of Yemen
“There is a continuous smuggling process that resupplies Houthis with advanced weapons. The national army forces have seized many Iranian weapons from Houthis during fighting,” Al-Khanbashi said.
Gerald Feierstein, the former US ambassador to Yemen, said that the Iranians supported the Houthis with weapons and trained them in using them long before the start of the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen.
“The Iranian engagement began long before the outbreak of the civil war or the Saudi coalition’s intervention. It’s clear that the Iranians saw the Houthi movement as an opportunity to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and to threaten its southern border,” he told Arab News in an interview in March.
The Yemeni government and military officials believe that the Houthis are bringing in shipments of Iranian weapons through coastal areas under their control on the Red Sea.
The Houthis remain in control of strategic seaports on the Red Sea, including Hodeidah. The impact of the undisrupted supplies of the advanced Iranian weapons to the Houthis can been seen on the battlefield. Yemeni military commanders have recently told Arab News that the Houthi bombardment has become more destructive and precise, killing more soldiers and civilians. This shows that Houthis resupplied their depleted arsenal of weapons that were destroyed during fighting with advanced weapons that sometime gave them superiority on the battlefield, army commanders say.
Experts argue that the continuing supplies of weapons from Iran has not only extended the conflict in Yemen, but also allowed them to target Saudi Arabia through ballistic missiles and drones.
“The Iranian support to the Houthis has not only prolonged the war, but also enabled the Houthis to target civilian areas in neighboring Saudi Arabia, as well as oil shipments, and to threaten international navigation through the Bab Al-Mandab,” Saleh Al-Baydhani, a Yemeni political analyst, told Arab News.
To stem the flow of Iranian weapons to Yemen, military experts suggest increasing sea patrol vessels near the Yemeni coast and liberating the remaining Yemeni coastal areas under Houthi control.
“Each time an arms shipment is intercepted, an attack inside Yemen or on Saudi Arabia is foiled. So I see the latest interception as a success,” Brig. Khaled Al-Nasi, a Yemeni military analyst, told Arab News.
“Tightening the screws on the smuggling of arms would accelerate the fall of this group,” Al-Nasi said.