Iran Guards find new route to arm Houthis
New route uses waters off Kuwait
Efforts to intercept military equipment by the coalition have had limited success, with no reported maritime seizures of weapons or ammunition during 2017 so far and only a few seizures on the main land route from the east of Yemen. Independent UN investigators, who monitor Yemen sanctions, told the Security Council in their latest confidential report, which Reuters has seen, that they continue to investigate potential arms trafficking routes.
They said the United Arab Emirates - which is part of the coalition - had reported 11 attacks since Sept 2016 against its ground forces by Houthis using drones, or UAVs, armed with explosives. “Although Houthi-aligned media announced that the Sanaa-based Ministry of Defence could manufacture the UAV, in reality they are assembled from components supplied by an outside source and shipped into Yemen,” the report said.
The report added that the Houthis “will eventually deplete their limited stock of missiles.” This would force the Houthis to end a campaign of missile attacks against Saudi territory unless they are resupplied from external sources. An earlier UN report in January said the Houthis needed to replenish stocks of anti-tank guided weapons. The arms smuggling operation may not turn the tide of the conflict, but it will allow the Houthis receive stable supplies of equipment that is otherwise hard to obtain.
“The volume of the activity, I don’t call it a trade, is not very large. But it is a safe route,” a second senior Iranian official said. “Smaller Iranian ports are being used for the activity as major ports might attract attention.” Asked if the IRGC was involved, the second official said: “No activity goes ahead in the Gulf without the IRGC being involved. This activity involves a huge amount of money as well as transferring equipment to Iranian-backed groups in their fight against their enemies.” A third senior Iranian official also confirmed the shipment activity and pointed to IRGC involvement.
The IRGC is Iran’s most powerful internal and external security force, with a sophisticated intelligence and surveillance network together with elite units which are playing a key role in the war in Syria in support of the government. The IRGC declined to comment on the arms shipments and Iranian foreign ministry officials could not immediately be reached.
Houthi officials were also not immediately available for comment but in March a Houthi leader, who declined to be identified, said accusations that Iran was smuggling weapons into Yemen were an attempt to cover up Saudi Arabia’s failure to prevail in the war there. Kuwaiti officials did not respond to questions. A US Navy spokesman said he had no information on the matter.
“(The territorial waters of) Iran, Kuwait and Iraq in the northern...Gulf butt up against each other,” said Gerry Northwood, of maritime security firm MAST and a former British Royal Navy captain who has commanded warships in the region. “There is still plenty of room for smugglers to operate. In fact the whole Persian Gulf is a hive of small boat activity. And this is in an area where one man’s illegitimate trade is another’s legitimate trade.”
Hundreds of ships sail through the Bab Al-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz every day - waterways which pass along the coasts of Yemen and Iran. Many are small dhows, which are hard to track. Western shipping and security sources said that since March there had been an increase in suspicious activity involving Iranian-flagged ships in waters near Kuwait. — Reuters