Iran is smuggling an increasingly potent arsenal of weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen not seen in the country before the conflict, the top US general in the Middle East has said.
In an interview with The New York Times, Vice Admiral Kevin M Donegan said Iran was supplying the Shiite rebels with anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and explosive boats, weapons that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea and Saudi territory across Yemen's northeastern border.
“These types of weapons did not exist in Yemen before the conflict,” Admiral Donegan said on Monday. “It’s not rocket science to conclude that the Houthis are getting not only these systems but likely training and advice and assistance in how to use them.”
The Houthis and allied fighters are battling the internally-recognised government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE. The United States is working with the coalition to restore Mr Hadi to power.
The violence began after the Houthis captured the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and later advanced south, taking large swathes of the country. The coalition intervened in the war in March 2015 and has since helped pro-government forces retake much of the territory captured by the rebels. The Houthis are allied with renegade soldiers loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Admiral Donegan was speaking from his Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain as he prepared to conclude his two-year tour.
The remarks by the general came after Reuters reported last month that Iran's Revolutionary Guard had begun using a new route across the Arabian Gulf to funnel covert arms shipments to the Houthis.
In March, regional and western sources said Iran was shipping weapons and military advisers to the Houthis either directly to Yemen or via Somalia. But, Reuters said, that route risked contact with international naval vessels on patrol in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
As a result, western and Iranian sources told Reuters that for the past six months, the Guard had been using waters further up the Arabian Gulf between Kuwait and Iran to reach the Houthis.
Also in March, the arms tracking NGO Conflict Armament Research said Iran had transferred so-called kamikaze aerial drone technology to the Houthis who had used it to disable coalition missile defences.