Iran has been supplying the Houthis (Ansarallah) with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which it is smuggling into Yemen via two units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC-QF), according to a recent study.
The Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies report, "Suicide drones, the Houthis’ Strategic Weapon", published in January, examines the methods Iran uses to supply the Houthis with UAVs and related support.
Abaad Centre director Abdulsalam Mohammed spoke with Al-Mashareq about Iran's connection to the UAVs and the evidence presented in the report that implicates Iran with supplying the Houthis with this technology.
Al-Mashareq: How does Iran supply the Houthis with UAVs?
Abdulsalam Mohammed: Iran uses a number of methods to deliver UAV technology to the Houthis, including smuggling, technology transfer and local manufacturing under the supervision of experts, and it is all handled by special units of the IRGC.
The engines of the UAVs can be purchased and smuggled across the sea as spare parts, and its propellers can be ordered via the internet, while the fiberglass hull is manufactured in local factories and workshops. Suicide UAVs are filled with TNT and C-4 explosive material.
The UAVs can be smuggled whole across Yemen's long coastline, and the technical and operating instructions can also be transferred through the internet, after which the UAVs are assembled by Iranian and Hizbullah experts present with the Houthis.
The study reveals the smuggling is handled by IRGC-QF units 400 and 190.
Al-Mashareq: Where do the Houthis manufacture or reassemble these UAVs?
Mohammed: It is difficult to pinpoint those locations, but they are scattered across the provinces of Sanaa, Amran and Saada, where the Houthis have factories and workshops built underground and others built in cities to protect them from being targeted.
Al-Mashareq: What evidence is presented in the report that proves Iran's involvement in providing the Houthis with UAVs and related technology?
Mohammed: The report focused on comparing the technology used in the manufacture of the Houthi UAVs with that of known Iranian UAV models, including both surveillance and suicide UAVs. The Qasef-1 UAV, for example, is identical in type and technology to the Iranian Ababil UAV model.
Al-Mashareq: What threat to Yemen and the region does the possession of UAVs by a group such as the Houthis pose?
Mohammed: UAV weapon technology poses a very serious threat to regional security, particularly in a region that is a corridor for international trade, and especially if this technology is possessed by groups and militias such as the Houthis.
Launching a "suicide boat" or UAV that costs no more than $2,000 at a vital target such as an oil installation, port, airport or oil tanker would result in immense losses. This means the national security of the Gulf states would be at risk with such a weapon in the hands of an armed group affiliated with Iran.
Al-Mashareq: Through what other means does Iran provide technological support to the Houthis in monitoring and identifying UAV targets?
Mohammed: Iran is indeed focusing on supporting the Houthis with modern technology, on the one hand to test them in war and gauge their effectiveness and on the other to support its allies in the region. The Houthis have UAVs that can correct artillery [co-ordinates] in real time, which makes them important to Houthi advances.
The Iranians also can provide information via satellite, and there are suspicions that the Iranian vessel Saviz, which has been present near Yemeni territorial waters since 2016, is providing logistical support to the Houthis, especially in relation to the technology and information aspects.
Al-Mashareq: How will the international community deal with Iran for its support of the Houthis with UAVs?
Mohammed: The international community can impose monitoring of UAV weapon technology and impose sanctions on states providing this technology to armed groups. It can also reinstate the sanctions on the vessel Saviz, which is suspected of playing a role in providing the Houthis with logistical support related to UAV weaponry and suicide speedboats and drones.
It is also possible to reinstate some of the sanctions that were imposed on Iran in this regard, and under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to punish the Houthis militarily for using all these weapons against neighbouring countries, oil installations, service installations and maritime navigation routes.
Ensuring the existence of a strong Yemeni state capable of imposing its authority over the country also will curb the use of this technology.