Iranian weapons supplied to the Houthis (Ansarallah) in Yemen are being smuggled to Somalia, and from there potentially to other conflict zones in Africa, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) said in its latest report.
"Iran's supplies of weapons and ammunition to the Houthi insurgency have been well documented in a series of maritime seizures of dhows dating back to 2015," the July/August Risk Bulletin said.
"Evidence has emerged to suggest that some of these Iranian weapons may subsequently be trafficked by criminal networks into the Horn of Africa from Yemen (or even be diverted while en route to Yemen)," it said.
In the most recent example, Saudi-led coalition forces seized a dhow carrying Iranian weapons intended for the Houthis on June 24th.
"The seized consignment included nearly 1,300 assault rifles, as well as sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and anti-tank guided missiles," GI-TOC said.
In February, the US military intercepted a dhow in the Arabian Sea that was heading for Yemen carrying Iranian-made weapons destined for the Houthis.
The weapons systems seized on February 9th are "identical" to a cache of weapons seized in the Arabian Sea by guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman on November 25th, CENTCOM said.
In both cases, it said, the supply of Iranian arms to the Houthis in Yemen violates a UN arms embargo in effect since April 2015, but due to expire October 18th.
The supply of arms by Iran also violates earlier UN resolutions banning the export to and import from Iran of arms, including resolutions 1737 of 2006; 1747 of 2007; and 1929 of 2010.
Iranian arms in Somalia
In late June, the GI-TOC assumed the persona of "Jama", an Arabic-speaking Somali national living in Nairobi.
Jama contacted Jabir al-Haadi (not his real name), an arms dealer based in Sanaa, saying that he was attempting to broker an arms deal on behalf of a (fictitious) South Sudanese client.
From June 27th through July 5th, al-Haadi and Jama exchanged dozens of recorded voice messages using WhatsApp.
"Al-Haadi shared detailed information about his operation, including his current weapons stocks, his associates and preferred means of receiving financial transfers," GI-TOC reported. "He also provided several photographs of weapons held at his storehouse in Sanaa, including one showing the serial number and related markings of a recently manufactured Chinese Type 56-1 rifle."
Based on this serial number, the GI-TOC determined that the rifle shared characteristics with weapons reportedly provided by Iran to the Houthis. The same type of rifle with a highly similar serial number sequence had previously been documented in central Somalia in April 2019.
Based on this research, the GI-TOC concluded "the existence of illicit-arms smuggling networks that see Iranian arms intended for Yemen end up in Somalia, and potentially beyond".
Somalia, home to the al-Shabaab terrorist group, which has ties to al-Qaeda, has been under a UN-imposed arms embargo since 1992.
Therefore, all imports of military equipment into the country, outside the scope of specific exemptions approved by the UN Security Council, are in violation of international law.
Iran's expansionist interests
"The weapons smuggling to Africa by the Houthis shows that Iran has turned Yemen into a hub for the export of ammunition and weapons to terrorist groups," said Abdul Salam Mohammed, director of the Abaad Centre for Research and Studies.
The new evidence "indicates that the Houthis have progressed from sufficiency to export, and that Iran is now in full control of Yemen and... poses a threat to both the Horn of Africa and the Gulf", he told Al-Mashareq.
Iran's smuggling of weapons to Yemen and beyond reveals "the extent to which the regime is tampering with the security and stability of the countries of the region and international trade, and violating international law".
"The evidence confirms that Iran is a country with expansionist interests, and in order for it to achieve its interests, force -- represented by the possession of weapons -- must be used," said political analyst Adel al-Shujaa.
"Iran is trying by all means to support its Houthi allies and supply them with weapons, and due to the embargo imposed on it, is using various ways to conduct its smuggling," he told Al-Mashareq.
Iran's arms smuggling to Yemen and the Horn of Africa is part of its plans to seize the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb, said political analyst Faisal Ahmed.
Through its Houthi allies and by smuggling arms to Somalia, Iran intends to sow chaos in the region and to use the strategic international trade corridor in the event the international community moves to tighten the sanctions against it, he said.
"Iran has become a source of instability in the region by prolonging the war in Yemen for more than five years and carrying out terrorist attacks in regional waters by targeting commercial vessels with sea mines and booby-trapped boats," Ahmed said.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has "special units that handle the smuggling and transport of weapons to its allies, some of which were used to attack the Saudi Aramco company and harm the global economy," he said.
The UN announced in June that cruise missiles and drones used in the September 2019 attacks on the Saudi oil facilities were "of Iranian origin", including components that had been made in Iran or exported there.
"Iran uses traditional ships and Yemeni islands, and from there the smuggled arms shipments take one of two routes, either to Yemen or to Somalia or other Horn of Africa countries," Ahmed said.
"Iran's arms smuggling is a violation of international laws and UN Security Council resolutions," he said.