Report Points to Iran Sending Arms to Rebels in Yemen

All of the dhows were unregistered and therefore stateless, and two were manufactured by Al Mansoor, an Iranian shipbuilder whose shipyard is next to an Iranian Revolutionary Guards base, says the report, citing Iranian state records.

Conflict Armament Research said in its report on Wednesday, “Since 2012, Al Mansoor dhows have been involved in multiple cases of trafficking in heroin, cannabis, and more recently, weapons.  Analysis of the weapons suggests that at least two of the three deliveries were probably supplied with the complicity of Iranian security forces.”

Some of the weapons captured in the raids on the dhows have the sequential serial numbers of new weapons, suggesting they came from a national stockpile, according to the report. Lot numbers from anti-tank weapons found aboard one of the dhows matched the production run of similar weapons that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said were captured from Houthis.

UAE officials were not immediately available for comment.

The role of Somali ports as transfer points, were highlighted in the report, which said the warships HMAS Darwin, FS Provence, and USS Sirocco had seized more than 4,500 assault rifles, mortars, machine guns, and rocket launchers in a four-week period between February and March 2016. “This report provides evidence suggesting Iran is playing a hand in supplying weapons to the conflict in Yemen,” said Jonah Leff, Director of Operations for the arms research group.

An Iranian official from the foreign ministry disputed the report’s findings. “It is not true and Iran has never provided weapons to Houthis or any other group in Yemen,” the official told Reuters. “But we have always supported and will continue to support oppressed groups and nations.”

“Yemen’s civil war pits Houthi rebels against the government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and a Saudi-led military coalition. The 20-month conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million.  Saudi Arabia accuses the Houthis of being a proxy force for Saudi’s arch rival Iran, an accusation the Houthis strongly dispute, saying they are fighting against the corruption of the former government,” Houreld writes, adding, “Yemen lies just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, which has been at war for more than 25 years and whose lawless coastline offers refuge for pirates and smugglers.”

At the very tip of the Horn of Africa lies Puntland. Their Marine Forces have only 12 small flat-bottomed boats that hug the shore and cannot venture into the deep seas. The region has between about 700 and 900 coastguards, but their equipment is poor. The former Minister of Ports, Maritime Transport and Counter Piracy in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland, Abdallah Jama Sallah, said it was almost impossible to prevent such smuggling. “In 2015, our own forces reported 160 Iranian boats fishing in our seas without permission. There’s no way of verifying them,” he said. “There’s lots of weapons going back and forth, it’s absolutely impossible to control that sea.”

In related news, an article in DW on November 30, about the findings of the British-based activists reports that the weapons seized indicate Tehran is arming Houthi rebels in Yemen, with guns made in Iran, Russia and possibly North Korea.

Conflict Armament Research said the they suspect that the pipeline leads from Iran to the coast of Somalia and then across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.

Some 4,500 weapons were seized by Australian, French, and US warships during the raid on three traditional Middle Eastern boats, so-called dhows, in February and March of this year. The arms shipments included 2,000 assault rifles “characteristic of Iranian manufacture” and 64 Hoshdar-M Iranian-made sniper rifles, according to the report, all of them new.  Light machine guns, suspected to be of North Korean origin, were also found in two of the three dhows. The guns had the same serial number sequence, “which suggests that the material derived from the same original consignment.”

100 Iranian rocket launchers and nine Russian-made anti-tank missiles were identified by investigators, as well. United Arab Emirates previously reported finding an anti-tank missile from “the same production run” in Yemen.

Although their findings are “relatively limited,” the researchers point to “significant quantities of Iranian-manufactured weapons and weapons that plausibly derive from Iranian stockpiles.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of using Houthis to fight a proxy war against the government in Yemen. The Sanaa regime is backed by the oil-rich kingdom.  However, both the rebels and the officials in Tehran deny this claim.  “It is not true, and Iran has never provided weapons to Houthis or any other group in Yemen,” the official told Reuters. “But we have always supported and will continue to support oppressed groups and nations.”

It is very hard to control smuggling in the region, according to the experts.  Yemen is torn apart by fighting, and Somali marine forces struggle with poor training and equipment.