Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement sent experts to train Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the assembly and launch of ballistic missiles and drones from Sanaa's international airport, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting the internationally recognised Yemeni government said on Sunday.
The Arab coalition presented photos and video to back its claim during an extensive press briefing in Riyadh.
The exhibits included images showing Hezbollah members training Houthi militants on the assembly of explosive-laden drones and satellite images of the airport, which it said was being used to launch attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“The terrorist organisation Hezbollah has spread destruction in the region and around the world, and it bears responsibility for targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen,” Brig Gen Turki Al Malki, the Arab coalition spokesman, said.
In a video clip shown at the briefing, a man identified as Hezbollah commander speaks to Abu Ali Al Hakim, the Houthi head of intelligence and fifth on the coalition’s list of most-wanted rebel figures.
They are heard discussing the rebels' battle to retain control of the vital Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, gateway for the bulk of imports and aid to Yemen. The rebels agreed to a UN-mediated truce and to cede control of the port after a coalition-backed government assault in 2018, but never honoured their commitment.
“When your retreats increased from the battlefronts and the aggression reached Hodeidah airport, this is for you before the aggression. This happened because of the disputes that occurred. If the United Nations had not resisted the sedition, Hodeidah would have fallen from us,” the Hezbollah commander tells Al Hakim.
“Our project is bigger than these disputes. We left everything and came to stand with you. The Syrian war is about to end, and most of the mujahideen will come to Yemen. If we lose the sea, we will not get any support and the mujahideen will not get it [the support]. We want a large crowd of mujahideen. We want to organise our ranks to prevent the fall of Hodeidah."
Both Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels are aligned with Iran, which is accused by its Arab neighbours of meddling in the internal affairs of other states in the region.
Brig Gen Al Malki said the war in Yemen was “intellectual, social and sectarian in nature" as was the case in Lebanon.
“The Iranian regime supports its proxies in the region with activities that led to destruction and devastation. The Houthi militia has adopted sectarian ideology from Iran and have rejected all UN efforts to resolve the crisis politically,” he said.
Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States and several European countries, although some countries have been reluctant to sanction the group’s political wing, fearing it could destabilise Lebanon and hamper contacts with authorities.
In November, the coalition released footage showing the use of Sanaa International Airport as a military base to conduct experiments and tests of air defence systems. The videos also showed how hangars at the airport had been converted into a base where missiles were being manufactured under the supervision of “foreign experts”.
Sharp rise in attacks
The press briefing came a day after two people died and seven were injured in a Houthi missile attack on the southern Saudi Arabian city of Jizan. The fatalities were a Saudi citizen and a Yemeni resident, the Saudi Press Agency and other media reported.
Civil Defence teams sent to the scene discovered “a military projectile” had fallen on a shop.
The coalition said earlier on Sunday that it had destroyed weapons warehouses at a Houthi rebel camp in Sanaa, as it intensifies an aerial bombing campaign against the rebels.
“The operation in Sanaa was an immediate response to an attempt to transfer weapons from Al Tashrifat camp in Sanaa,” it said.
A report published last week by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that Iran’s Quds force – the overseas operations wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – and Hezbollah have played a “critical role in providing weapons, technology, training and other assistance to the Yemen-based Houthis”.
“Not only has there been a rise in the number of attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year, but Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah continue to provide the Houthis with increasingly sophisticated weapons systems,” the CSIS report said.
The coalition said on Sunday that the Houthis had launched 430 ballistic missiles, 851 drones and 100 explosive-laden boats targeting Saudi Arabia since 2015. The rebels have also endangered maritime navigation with more than 247 naval mines.
Recent Houthi attacks have been condemned by the French and US embassies in Saudi Arabia, as well as the kingdom’s Gulf Arab allies.
“Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and endangering the Saudi people alongside more than 70,000 US citizens residing in Saudi Arabia,” the US embassy said on Saturday.
French ambassador Ludovic Pouille offered condolences on Twitter to the families of the victims of what he called the “barbaric Houthi attack”.