Saudi-Led Coalition: Weapons Captured in Yemen Show Iran Is Arming Houthi Rebels

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June 20, 2018

Officials in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen on Tuesday displayed captured weapons that they say show Iran is arming the Shiite insurgents.

The weapons, taken from the battlefield and shown to reporters in Abu Dhabi and later at an Emirati military base on a government-sponsored tour, included drones, a sniper rifle, and roadside bombs, the Associated Press reported.

Coalition officials also showed reporters Iranian-labeled components found within equipment, which they said was used to produce and load fuel for the rebels' rockets.

"Unsurprisingly, there are advanced military components in the Houthi militia's hands," Talal al-Teneiji, an Emirati Foreign Affairs Ministry official, told the AP. "We took time to inspect and disassemble these to figure out the source ... and we can say that these elements are military-grade materials imported from Iran to the Houthi militias."

Iran's mission to the United Nations said, "Iran has not sent and does not send armaments to Yemen," without commenting specifically on the Saudi-led coalition's allegations. Iran has long denied arming the Houthis, who have been fighting the coalition for control of key parts of Yemen.

The U.S. and other Western governments have said Iran supplies the Houthis with ballistic missiles and other weapons.

The United Nations revealed last week that five ballistic missiles launched from Yemen into Saudi Arabia contained Iranian-manufactured components. The U.N. could not determine whether the missile parts had been delivered after January 2016, when U.N. restrictions on the transfer of nuclear and ballistic material to or from Iran took effect.

According to a Congressional Research Service report from April, "although Houthi militia forces are likely not solely dependent on Iran for armaments, financing, and manpower, after three years of war, most observers agree that Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah have aided Houthi forces with training and arms shipments."

The report notes, however, that the extent of Iran's support is questionable.

"Overall, while Iranian aid to the Houthis does not match the scale of its commitments to proxies in other parts of the Middle East, such as in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, it would seem to be a relatively low-cost way of keeping Saudi Arabia mired in the Yemen conflict," the report said. "At the same time, Iran had few institutionalized links to the Houthis before the civil conflict broke out in 2015, and questions remain about the degree to which Iran and its allies can control or influence Houthi behavior."

The Saudi-led coalition's presentation on Tuesday comes as Yemeni forces, led by the United Arab Emirates, are on an offensive to seize control of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, through which about 70 percent of Yemen's food enters. The operation has escalated fears of an even greater humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where 8.4 million of the country's population of 27 million are at risk of starving. About two-thirds of the Yemen's population relies on aid.