Iran’s ballistic missile support for Houthis said to jeopardise peace efforts

Washington Institute urges the US to do more to stop the smuggling of Iranian air-defence systems into Yemen.
Tuesday 10/04/2018
A Houthi arms depot explodes after it was hit by air strikes in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, last January. (Reuters)
A Houthi arms depot explodes after it was hit by air strikes in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, last January. (Reuters)

LONDON - A Washington think-tank recommended that the United States expand its support for the Saudi-led coalition at war with the Iran-allied Houthis in Yemen due to the militia’s upgraded military capabilities.

The report by the Washington Institute urged the United States to do more to stop the smuggling of Iranian air-defence systems into Yemen and help the coalition “blunt the impact of evolving Houthi SAM (surface-to air-missile) tactics.”

Since the start of the conflict three years ago, the Houthi militia has enhanced its military capabilities despite a UN-ordered arms embargo. This has included firing ballistic missiles at Riyadh on the third anniversary of the start of the war that, although intercepted, resulted in the death of an Egyptian national. Evidence suggests that the missiles had been provided by Iran.

The report by the Washington Institute said the Houthis’ missile capabilities in 2014 were “largely benign” compared to what they do today — indiscriminately launch ballistic missiles at populated areas.

A 2015 UN report stated that Iran was pro­viding weapons to rebels in Yemen as early as 2009. The report included findings of an investigation into the 2013 seizure by Yemeni authorities of an Iranian ship that was carrying weapons.

In December, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presented the UN Security Council with what she described as irrefutable proof of Iran supplying Houthi rebels with weaponry.

“These are Iranian made, these are Iranian sent and these were Iranian given,” Haley said. “You will see us build a coalition to real­ly push back against Iran and what they’re doing.”

In February, Russia vetoed a British-sponsored draft resolution that would have held Iran responsible for arming the Houthis.

The Washington Institute report recommended that the United States “expand its defensive support to coalition forces, providing intelligence that can help them detect new SAM systems and air-defence command-and-control nodes in a timely manner.”

The report said prevention of Iranian shipments of weapons was an urgent matter and the United States “should therefore work with the Yemeni government and the coalition to expose any further Iranian smuggling of SAM or electronic warfare systems, which could threaten civilian aviation as easily as military aircraft.”

The report said that, besides the threat to US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, neutralising the Houthis’ surface-to-air missile systems “may be prerequisites to a settlement” of the conflict.

The Yemeni Army, supported by the Saudi-led coalition, has been targeting suspected Houthi smuggling routes, including the strategic port of Hodeidah, believed to be where Iran has been smuggling arms into Yemen. The coalition announced that it had detected missile launch sites used by the Houthis, believed to be in the Saada and Amran governorates.