Security

Houthi operations turn coast off Yemen into a minefield

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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Yemeni fishermen sit in their boat in the Red Sea waters off the port city of al-Hodeidah on January 1, 2019. [AFP]

ADEN -- Naval mines that the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have planted in the Red Sea along Yemen's western coast threaten international navigation, as well as the lives and livelihoods of local fishermen, sources in Yemen say.

On January 25, Arab coalition forces destroyed a naval mine the Houthis had deployed in the Red Sea, local media reported.

The naval mine was an Iranian-made "Sadaf" mine designed to explode upon colliding with an object, an unnamed source with the Arab coalition's engineering team told Saudi news outlet Al-Arabiya.

It was caught in a fisherman's net near a wharf in al-Hodeidah province's al-Durayhimi district, he said.

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Saudi-backed military experts deactivated some 5,000 land mines on January 30, which they said were planted by the Houthis in Yemen's northern coastal town of Midi, in Hajjah province, near the border with Saudi Arabia. [AFP]

On December 24, the Arab coalition announced its engineering team had discovered four naval mines laid by the Houthis.

The coalition said it has so far destroyed 175 naval mines laid randomly by the Houthis.

This has been an ongoing issue in coastal waters.

Arab coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki last year noted that naval mines pose a real threat to the flow of maritime navigation and international trade in the Bab al-Mandeb strait and the southern Red Sea.

The Arab coalition has detected and destroyed dozens of them, he said.

'Largest minefield in the world'

The Houthis have become a tool of the Iranian regime's agenda, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

He accused the militia of deploying naval mines in support of Iran's expansionist plans, saying that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) deploys members of its forces to carry out naval mine operations.

The mines that have been found are modern in design, said Mohammed Thamer, who heads the National Resistance Forces' engineering team.

The National Resistance Forces, led by Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammad Abdullah Saleh, are an elite force that is battling the Houthis on the side of the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition.

The Houthis do not have the expertise or capability to manufacture the type of naval mines that have been recovered in Yemen, Thamer said.

According to a report by Saudi news portal al-Watan, he said, the west coast of Yemen has been turned into the "largest minefield in the world".

Iran is behind the mines laid in regional waters, including those off the coast of Hajjah province and around offshore islands, the report said.

Thamer said naval mines have been found in several areas along the coast, including the port of al-Haima, al-Ghwaireq coast, al-Faza, al-Mujailis coast, al-Jah and al-Durayhimi, from the Gulfaqa area to al-Manthar in al-Hodeidah city.

Impact on fishing sector

In a January 25 report to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a panel of experts said there is an "increasing body of evidence" that Iran is supplying "significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis".

The recent discoveries of naval mines is a confirmation that the Houthis, with Iran's support, are targeting international trade shipping lanes, said Abaad Studies and Research Centre director Abdul Salam Mohammed.

This poses a threat to regional and global security, he said, in addition to threatening the security of the Yemeni people.

There is no question that the naval mines are evidence of Iran's involvement, political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher said, as there are indications they were laid by IRGC-affiliated Lebanese and Houthi experts.

Al-Taher said Iran relies on its proxies -- among them, the Houthis -- to carry out attacks, and this would include laying naval mines.

Economist Abdul Aziz Thabet said naval mines threaten the security of a key international waterway and the interests of the countries of the region and beyond -- including economic interests.

These mines have a direct impact on the fishing sector, he said.

About half a million fishermen work in the waters off Yemen's western coast, supporting some 1.7 million people with their catch, he said.

Naval mines put them at risk of losing their only source of income amid Yemen's humanitarian crisis, he said, noting that in November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned the crisis could become "the worst in the world".

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