Security

Yemen urges end to Iranian arms smuggling to Houthis

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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A picture taken on August 8, 2018, shows a Yemeni military patrol boat cruising past the docks in the Hadramaut provincial capital of al-Mukalla. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

ADEN -- Yemen's government has reiterated its calls to the international community to put an end to Iranian smuggling of weapons to the Houthis (Ansarallah).

This comes on the heels of the February 12 seizure by the US Navy of two illicit shipments of weapons and weapons components from two dhows during a maritime security operation in international waters off the coast of Somalia.

While the original source of the weapons has not yet been identified, Iran has routed previous shipments of arms to the Houthis via Somalia.

Seizures like this confirm the Iranian regime's "continued supply of weapons and military technology to the Houthi militia", Yemen's Information, Culture and Tourism Minister Muammar al-Eryani said in a February 17 post on Twitter.

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Yemeni gunmen loyal to the Iran-backed Houthis brandish their weapons during a rally in Sanaa last July 7. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

These types of transactions breach the UN Security Council resolutions banning the supply of arms to militias, he said, and present a challenge to the international will to achieve peace in Yemen.

"We call on the international community and Security Council permanent members to pressure Iran to stop interference in Yemen and end arms smuggling," al-Eryani said.

Iran supplies 'significant volumes' of arms to Houthis

In a January 25 report to the UN Security Council, a panel of experts on Yemen documents an "increasing body of evidence" that suggests individuals or entities in Iran "supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis".

In its report, the panel recommends the Security Council call on Iran to respect its obligations under UNSC Resolution 2216, which calls for all parties in Yemen, in particular the Houthis, to immediately and unconditionally end violence.

The report documented three routes used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to smuggle weapons to the Houthis.

A route along the Oman and Yemen coast is used for smuggling high-value military cargo such as missile components, anti-tank missile containers, components of unmanned aerial vehicles, and home-made explosives.

A route through the Somalian coast is mostly used for supplying small and light weapons, by moving goods from one ship onto another off the coast of Somalia.

A third route passes through Bab al-Mandeb strait, at the mouth of the Red Sea.

In June, the report said, the Saudi navy seized two large shipments of small arms and light weapons. One shipment was aboard the Yemeni sailboat al-Shamasy, seized 90 nautical miles away from the Nishtun port in al-Mahrah.

The other, seized 70 nautical miles northeast of Souso, Somalia, was on a larger sailboat with a Somalian crew. According to the report, the boat had traveled between ports in Somalia, Yemen and Iran.

In a separate incident, the Yemeni Coast Guard in May seized a boat carrying four individuals, who later admitted to being part of a smuggling network transporting weapons to the Houthis, the report said.

Calls to maintain pressure on Iran

Yemeni Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez has called on the Security Council to facilitate efforts to shut down smuggling routes that bring in Iranian arms.

These have "become a threat to the security of Yemen and the region", he said.

The Iranian regime intends to establish the Houthis in a similar position to that of Lebanese Hizbullah and IRGC-affiliated militias in Syria to maintain its influence in the region, said political analyst Mahmoud al-Tahir.

Based on the report's findings, the Security Council should begin legislating sanctions against Iran and the Houthis in accordance with Resolution 2216, said Abaad Studies and Research Centre director Abdulsalam Mohammed.

Yemen's government had repeatedly warned the Security Council against lifting the arms embargo on Iran, which expired in October, saying it was necessary in order to curb Iran's destabilising policies and actions.

The US has warned that with greater access to arms, Iran will supply more weapons to its proxies throughout the region.

"Regardless of the UN's Iran sanctions architecture, we will continue to use our authorities to dissuade countries from providing arms to Iran," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on February 20.

In a joint statement in June, France, Germany and the United Kingdom noted that the European Union's embargoes on conventional arms exports and missile technology to Iran will remain in force until 2023.

On December 18, Iranian Defence Minister Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami told the Majles (parliament) that the military had inked a number of arms deals with various unnamed countries, following the expiration of the UN arms embargo.

In August, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Ivanovich Borisov confirmed that Iran was interested in purchasing military equipment from Moscow once the arms embargo was lifted.

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