Iran is providing Yemen's Houthi rebels with materials to manufacture armour-piercing improvised explosive devices, according to a new report by an arms tracking group.
“Improvised weapons used by Yemen’s Houthi forces have been manufactured using the same, identically configured components as those recovered from Iranian-backed groups in Bahrain,” said James Bevan, executive director of Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a UK-based organisation that monitors the flow of weapons to conflict zones.
“CAR’s latest findings confirm consistencies in Iran’s military support, not only to Houthi forces, but also to its proxies across the wider region.”
The report is being released on Monday, the third anniversary of the Saudi-led Arab coalition's intervention to support the Yemeni government against the Iran-backed rebels. It says the latest findings suggest that Iran's arming of the Houthis "began as early as January 2013".
The coalition has repeatedly presented evidence showing Iran's involvement in smuggling weapons to the Houthis, while the United Nations has said that Iran has violated an arms embargo by providing missiles and drones to the militia.
The United States said in December that two Houthi missiles fired into Saudi Arabia last year were Iranian Qiam missiles, based on their design and components recovered from the missile debris. Presenting the evidence, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said the missiles were among a range of weapons supplied to the rebels by Iran, including attack drones, explosives-laden boats designed to be rammed into targets, and anti-tank rockets.
The CAR report compares findings on radio-controlled explosive devices recovered in Yemen and those it has documented in other areas of the Middle East. The devices were camouflaged to resemble natural rocks and contained explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) — plates of metal that are shaped by the force detonation into projectiles capable of piercing armoured vehicles.
“EFPs concealed in synthetic rocks and documented by CAR in Yemen closely resemble, in design and construction, devices recovered in Iraq and Lebanon, which parties have previously linked, forensically, to Iran,” said the report.
The Houthis placed these devices "along motorways connecting Mokha-Dhubab, Mokha-Taez and Mokha-Khawkha” — areas on Yemen's Red Sea coast where government and coalition forces have been battling for control since last year.
“Arab coalition forces recovered the most recently emplaced device in January 2018, which CAR documented in the same month,” the report said.
It also said that material previously seized on board the Jihan 1 — a ship that was intercepted by Yemeni forces off the country's coast in 2013 — was identical to material documented in Yemen by CAR.
“This confirms widespread assertions that the vessel was destined for Houthi forces in Yemen and would suggest that Iranian support to Houthi forces began as early as January 2013,” said CAR — whose investigation teams conducted six missions to Yemen between April 2017 and February 2018.
The use of EFPs hidden in synthetic rocks has strong precedent elsewhere, the report added. The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has consistently employed similar devices against Israeli forces in Israel and southern Lebanon.
CAR's latest findings build upon its previous reporting of Iran's involvement in the supply of small arms, light weapons and drones to the Houthi rebels.
The Yemen war was triggered when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and later advanced south, taking large swathes of the country. After entering the war at the request of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi on March 26, 2015, the coalition has helped pro-government forces to retake much of the territory captured by the rebels. However, Sanaa remains under rebel control.