Politics

Tehran admits to sharing missile expertise with Yemenis

By Ardeshir Kordestani

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Abolfazl Shekarchi, senior spokesperson for Iran's Armed Forces, seen in an undated photograph. [Photo via Mashregh News]

Iran continues to spend large amounts of money to arm and equip the Houthis (Ansarallah) -- even supplying missile expertise, according to recent revelations -- contributing to the ongoing violence and instability in Yemen and the region at the expense of the Iranian people.

Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesperson for Iran's Armed Forces Joint Staff Headquarters, recently admitted that Iran has "shared missile technology and experience with Yemenis".

The revelation effectively undermines Tehran's longstanding assertion that it only provides "advisory support" to the Houthis.

The Houthis have used ballistic missiles and explosives-laden drones to launch attacks against Saudi Arabia and coalition military assets in Gulf waters over the past year.

In late June, the coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed drones and ballistic missiles launched into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis, including one fired towards Riyadh.

On September 10th, the Houthis claimed to have attacked Riyadh again, this time with a variant of the Iranian-made Fateh-110 missile.

The Houthis have targeted the Saudi city of Jizan on multiple occasions as well, most recently on September 19th.

Iran side-stepping sanctions

The Iranian regime has been providing the Houthis with military equipment and training while its own people are under extreme pressure from a downward spiralling economy, depreciation of the rial and a 34% inflation rate.

The future does not look any brighter for Iranian citizens.

"Next year, we will definitely face further decrease in the exchange rate of the rial against the dollar," economist Moloud Zahedi told Al-Mashareq. "Sanctions will further reduce the size of the economy, and the government will be forced to print more money to inject into the capital market."

Tehran has consistently shown its preference for supporting militias allied with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) over providing basic necessities for the Iranian people.

Shekarchi, a former IRGC commander, explained how Tehran has managed to sidestep sanctions to support the Houthis.

"We have transferred the knowledge and technology of defence to Yemenis, but the pressure of sanctions does not allow us to send them any missiles," he said in a televised interview with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network on September 22nd.

"Rather, being a capable and highly intelligent people with many scientists among them, Yemenis have learned how to manufacture missiles, UAVs [drones] and other weapons," he said. "They fire these weapons at their enemies. It is not as if we provide Yemen missiles from here in Iran."

Exaggerations

While some observers caution that Tehran often exaggerates Iran's ability to provide military and technological support to its proxies, Shekarchi's admission should be taken seriously.

"To some degree, Iran exaggerates its ability to support its proxies, including the Houthis," said a retired Iranian navy analyst, who requested to remain anonymous.

"If, however, there are missiles being built in Yemen, they are being built by IRGC advisers who have been sent there, not by the Houthis," he told Al-Mashareq.

A facility that assembles missiles cannot be very small and there is complexity to it, he said. It would not be easy to hide such a facility from US intelligence or from Saudi bombers, and thus it is more likely that the missiles are being sent to Yemen from Iran.

By contrast, Iran's efforts to build, sustain and successfully operate missile production facilities in Syria have largely failed because the facilities were easy military targets, analysts say.

Tehran 'omits facts' on Houthi support

"Shekarchi is not wrong, but he omits the fact that Iran has shipped advanced missile parts manufactured in Iran to be assembled in Yemen," Amir Toumaj, US-based research analyst who focuses on Iran, told Al-Mashareq.

"Shekarchi is not the first military official to confirm that the Islamic Republic backs the rebels in Yemen," he said. "Before Shekarchi, Mohammad Bagheri acknowledged Iranian support [for the Houthis]."

In December 2019, Bagheri, a former IRGC commander who is now the Iranian Armed Forces' chief of staff, said Iran provides "advisory support to the people's army of Yemen", in reference to the Houthis.

Shekarchi and Bagheri's remarks are further evidence that Iran has been shipping troves of increasingly sophisticated weapons to the Houthis overland and via sea routes since at least 2015.

Some of these weapons are even making their way to Somalia, and from there potentially to other conflict zones in Africa, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) said in its July/August Risk Bulletin.

"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 report 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.

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