Iran has expanded its delivery of weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, U.S. and Iranian officials told Reuters Thursday.
The weapons are smuggled overland into Yemen via the neighboring country of Oman. “What they’re bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives… money and personnel,” a U.S. official said. A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed that his government has stepped up its support for the Houthis, which are fighting a Saudi-backed coalition, saying that there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May. “The nuclear deal gave Iran an upper hand in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia, but it needs to be preserved,” the diplomat explained.
Critics of the nuclear deal with Iran, including regional American allies, have long expressed their concern that it gives Iran more leeway to support destabilizing proxy forces throughout the region, such as in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.
The revelation that Iran is smuggling anti-ship missiles to the Houthis is especially relevant in the wake of several attacks against ships off the coast of Yemen, which have been attributed to the Houthis. A United Arab Emirates ship was severely damaged by rockets earlier this month while transiting the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, through which much of the world’s oil is shipped. Over the course of the next week, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason, which had been deployed to the area following the attack on the UAE vessel, was fired upon at least twice while patrolling the strait. The Mason later destroyed three radar sites in Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis seized control of the Yemeni government in 2015, prompting a military intervention by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries. The group, whose slogan is “God is great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam,” has also received military training from Iran. American, French, and Australian vessels have intercepted weapons shipments from Iran on their way to the Houthi rebels earlier this year. In August, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concern that Iran’s arming of the Houthis was “not a threat just to Saudi Arabia; it is a threat to the region, it is a threat to the United States, and it cannot continue.”
After the capture of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in 2014, Iranian parliamentarian Ali Reza Zakani, who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, boasted that Iran now controlled four Arab capitals: Damascus, Baghdad, Sana’a, and Beirut.
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