ADEN -- Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) experts have been deployed to Yemen's al-Hodeidah province to help the Houthis set up attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb strait, officials said.
The presence of IRGC specialists coincides with Houthi threats of an escalation and fresh attacks on shipping lanes, Al-Hadath news channel said in a December 21 report.
The Houthis have dispatched the specialists to the coastal districts of al-Durayhimi and Beit al-Faqih, and set up platforms for the launch of missiles and drones in preparation for a new battle, it reported.
"The Houthis brought in a group of Iraqi, Iranian and Lebanese military experts to al-Hodeidah, to work according to their specialties in naval operations and laying land mines," said al-Hodeidah provincial spokesman Ali Hameed al-Ahdal.
Among them are drone operators, who can set up direct attacks on various targets, he told Al-Mashareq.
He said the Houthis are "assembling Iran-manufactured drone components on Kamaran Island, in al-Salif area and in al-Durayhimi district".
Kamaran Island, situated off the Red Sea coast across from al-Salif on the mainland, is the largest Yemeni island in the Red Sea.
IRGC specialists are present in some coastal districts of al-Hodeidah province, which is controlled by the Houthis, in apparent preparation to carry out attacks on international shipping, al-Ahdal said.
"The Houthis also have dug water channels in recent months, extending several kilometres inland from the sea, for military purposes," he said, warning that the current dangers are "not limited to attacks against navigation".
Additionally, he said, the Iran-backed group has been planting mines near southern al-Hodeidah, the Jabaliya area of al-Tahita district, the al-Jah area in Beit al-Faqih, and scattered areas in al-Durayhimi.
This indicates the Houthis are preparing for a battle, he said, noting that they recruit fishermen to serve as informants at sea and mobilise fighters from al-Hodeidah districts to fight in their ranks.
Iranian logistical support
The Iranian vessel Behshad, which replaced the Saviz -- another spy ship moored in the Red Sea -- provides logistical support to the Houthis, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Maasali of al-Hodeidah military axis said in a November 18 statement.
The Behshad transports smuggled weapons, foreign experts, communication technologies and air defence systems, and its crew members smuggle drone shipments, ballistic missile parts and drugs to al-Hodeidah, he said.
They also provide the Houthis with information about international shipping lanes, the Yemeni Coast Guard and international peacekeeping forces.
The Behshad recently supplied the Houthis with Iranian-made military boats, and IRGC and Hizbullah trainers are teaching militia members how to use them to carry out attacks in the Red Sea, Maasali said.
Political analyst Ahmed al-Sabahi said the presence of IRGC experts in al-Hodeidah is not surprising.
The IRGC uses the Houthis to harm international interests and target shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb strait, he told Al-Mashareq.
Iran uses the Houthis as leverage in international negotiations -- such as the efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers -- and threatens the region, claiming it has the ability to disrupt navigation, he said.
For military training, logistical and technical matters, he added, the Houthis rely primarily on the IRGC and Lebanese Hizbullah.
International security efforts
Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies director Abdul Salam Mohammed said Iran has given the green light to the Houthis to carry out attacks that may extend to international waters and oil sources in the Gulf states.
This makes it clear that Iran does not want peace in the region, and that the Houthis follow its instructions, he told Al-Mashareq.
He called on the Arab coalition to "engage the international community and establish partnerships with Combined Task Force 153 (CTF 153), which is now headed by Egypt, to protect the safety of international shipping lanes".
CTF 153, which is focused on threats in the Red Sea, is the newest of four task forces overseen by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), which deals with maritime security, counter piracy and Gulf maritime security.
The CMF is a multi-national naval partnership in which 34 nations patrol 3.2 million square miles of international waters.