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Arms seized on stateless vessel linked to Iran

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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This US Navy handout image from April 2004 shows a team assigned to USS Bulkeley approaching a dhow in the Arabian Gulf while conducting maritime operations aimed at fighting the global war on terrorism. [HO/US NAVY/AFP]

A UN panel is investigating whether a shipment of arms linked to Iran, seized aboard a Yemen-crewed vessel transiting the Arabian Sea in November, was an attempted violation of the arms embargo on Yemen's Houthis (Ansarallah).

Guided missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman seized a consignment of arms during a November 25th flag verification boarding of a stateless vessel.

In a January 27th report to the UN Security Council, the Panel of Experts on Yemen said it has been informed the vessel was a dhow with a Yemeni crew of 11 men that had been heading for the coast of Yemen.

The crew members were transferred to the Yemen Coast Guard, while the seized weapons are in the possession of the US.

The panel said it has inspected the seized weapons, and noted that the shipment included 21 anti-tank guided missiles, which were likely to be the Iranian Dehlavieh version of the 9M133 Kornet.

Also seized were two previously unknown surface-to-air missiles, and components for the Quds-1 land attack cruise missile, for a C802 anti-ship cruise missile and for a third, unidentified cruise missile, it said.

"The shipment also included a large number of detonators, parts for the assembly of waterborne improvised explosive devices, thermal optical weapon sights and other components," the panel said in its report.

"The panel is investigating whether this shipment might be an attempted violation of the targeted arms embargo and has requested additional information" to help it make a determination, the report said.

Signs point to Iran

In its report, the panel said that given the quality of the manufacturing, it does not believe the Quds-1 missile was developed and produced in Yemen.

Markings on some of the turbojet engines indicate a production date in 2019, it said, indicating that the missiles had been transferred to the Houthis in violation of a UN arms embargo in effect since April 2015.

Analysts who spoke with Al-Mashareq said it seems that Iran was directly behind the arms shipment, rather than a third party, because the Iranian-made weapons had been shipped in 2019, the same year as their production.

This would not have allowed time for an intermediary to get involved in the transaction, they said, noting that the production date also makes it clear the transfer was in breach of the embargo.

Iran continues to support its allies in the region because this serves its expansionist ambitions, they observed, regardless of the cost to its economy and the suffering of its own people.

To this end, Iran "operates through regional allies to supply weapons to the Houthis and support them militarily", political analyst Adel al-Shogaa told Al-Mashareq.

According to political analyst Faisal Ahmed, Iranian smuggling of weapons and missile parts to the Houthis is carried out via certain Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) units which handle strategic operations.

Iran's economic crisis

"Iran's economy is facing major challenges and losses because of US sanctions and a ban on its oil sales," Ahmed said.

In January, the World Bank reported that the Iranian economy was contracting at a faster-than-previous rate, estimating it shrank 8.7% in 2019, compared to the previous year. Its forecast for Iran's gross domestic product (GDP) growth is 0% in 2020 and 1% in both 2021 and 2022.

"Iran is doing its best to smuggle weapons to the Houthis so they can launch military strikes that harm the economies of regional countries and the world economy," Ahmed said.

This move is intended to exert pressure on world powers so that they alleviate economic sanctions on it, he said, noting that "it seems that it is facing the economic war with a military war for economic purposes".

The chief concern is that weapons are continuing to flow to the Houthis, and that some parties are involved in this illegal transaction, despite the enforcement of an arms embargo, political analyst Khaled Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

Arms supplied to Houthis

"There are regional proxies allied with Iran that can play an important role in helping Iran deliver weapons and different forms of support to the Houthis," Khaled Ahmed said.

There are "many possibilities for how smuggled Iranian weapons are delivered to the Houthis", he noted.

"The IRGC has units specialised in delivering these weapons, especially sophisticated weapons that are used to realise strategic goals that serve Iran's interests," he said.

According to the UN panel's report, he said, weapons seem to have been smuggled to the Houthis via two routes -- one by sea, and another overland via Oman, through territory controlled by the Yemeni government.

"Although Iran's economy continues to suffer, the regime continues to support the Houthis with weapons," he said, adding that "Iran is ready to provide all forms of support to the Houthis at the expense of its internal economy".

"This is because it considers the Houthis a tool of the war it is waging to protect its national interests in the face of regional and international parties," he said.

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