Arab Coalition lays bare Iranian support for Houthis in Yemen

Drones, ballistic missiles and IEDs have all made their way from Iran to the rebels

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., June 19, 2018. Allegedly used Iranian weapons that have been used in Yemen.  A shot down drone on display.
Victor Besa / The National
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Requested by:   Jake Badger

The Arab Coalition has laid bare the extent of Iranian military support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, displaying drones, missiles and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) captured during the three-year conflict.

At a military briefing on Tuesday, advanced weaponry captured from Houthis throughout the country offered a glimpse into the vast arsenal of Iranian-made weapons seized by coalition forces.

“Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are getting outside help, the evidence is here,” a coalition officer familiar with technical weapons intelligence said.

On display were components from IEDs, some of which were disguised as rocks, and others as cooking pots. The official noted that the Arab Coalition estimated it had defused as many as 30,000 explosive devices since the start of Yemen’s civil war, noting their increasing sophistication over time. “IEDs have been taken to a level difficult for adults to distinguish; imagine how bad it can be for children.”

Also on show were Qasef-1 drones, a near identical replica of the Iranian Ababil UAVs. The Qasef has become the drone of choice for Houthi rebels, sometimes laden with explosives and in other instances equipped with cameras for surveillance. Yet, the coalition official noted that the drones only entered the group’s arsenal in the years after the conflict began.

“They didn’t have any capability before the war; within two years they started using small UAVs. This is not possible without external help,” the officer told reporters.

Wiring found on the Qasef drone also had Farsi markings, indicating Iranian origin.


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Other recovered equipment had further indications pointing to their Iranian origin. A captured "suicide boat" packed with explosives to be driven into the side of other vessels that was obtained by the coalition in the Red Sea in early 2017, was fitted with a software system manufactured by Iranian company FHM Electronics. The Tehran-based company’s logo was also found on circuit boards in the boat’s guidance system.

Saved on the boat’s hard-drive were dozens of co-ordinates from across Iran, two of which corresponded to confirmed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) facilities.

Also displayed were Russian-made Kornet Anti-Tank Guided Missile launchers, and Iranian imitations. The Kornet missile is widely available on the black market, but markings on the launchers reveal they were made in 2015. This, the military official said, suggests they were transferred to Yemen after the introduction of an international arms embargo.

“The smuggling is ongoing and is evolving, it hasn’t stopped,” said the official.

Recovered limpet mines – a type of naval mine – were also shown to be the same model pictured being used by the IRGC during a fast boat exercise in 2014.

The unanimously adopted UN Security Council arms embargo 2216 was introduced in April 2015 as part of wider series of sanctions against several Yemeni figures, including Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi.

A similar media display in December 2017 saw US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Hayley, present the charred remains of a ballistic missile fired by Houthis in Yemen that had been shot down above the Saudi capital Riyadh. She said the missile parts demonstrated Iran’s undeniable support for the Houthis.

The official stressed that the Arab Coalition was “working closely with international bodies, including the UN Security Council” to identify the sources of the weapons and enforce the arms embargo.

The official added that there was “clear evidence" of transfer of technology.

“The system components were consistent with those used by other Iranian proxies - for example, Hezbollah.” IEDs disguised as rocks were consistent with others found in Iraq and transmitters were the same as those found in Bahrain, he said.

He added that “Iranian-backed Houthis were using these with no-discrimination between civilian and military [targets]”.

The official noted that the Houthis were “improving and improving” their weapons. “They are a small group with not so much capability but they are getting help.” He highlighted the group’s use of advanced infrared sensors on IEDs and EFPs – Explosively Formed Penetrator, an IED designed to penetrate armour which found widespread use among Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.

The Coalition officer also noted that Houthis were making use of dual-use items to import vital parts for ballistic missiles. A fuel tank captured by the coalition again had markings indicating Iranian origin. “The tank is consistent with those used as fuel tanks on Scud missiles. Iran has Scud missiles”, the official said.

Houthi rebels have fired more than 100 ballistic missiles on Saudi Arabia in recent years. The most recent incident was on Sunday when Saudi Arabian air defences intercepted a ballistic missile fired on the southern city of Jizan.