Bloomberg: Yemen sees increasing evidence that Iran is arming Shiite Muslim rebels who seized territory on the 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) border with Saudi Arabia, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said. By Tony Czuczka and Henry Meyer
Nov. 25 (Bloomberg) — Yemen sees increasing evidence that Iran is arming Shiite Muslim rebels who seized territory on the 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) border with Saudi Arabia, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said.
“There is mounting evidence but we are dealing with it very responsibly,” al-Qirbi said in an interview in Berlin today after meeting with German government officials. He declined to say what measures Yemen or its allies might take in response.
Yemen, a U.S. ally, has steered clear of directly accusing Iran’s government of providing weapons to the insurgents. The Yemeni authorities recently began investigating the matter after boarding an Iranian ship in Yemeni waters, he said. While no arms were found on board, they may already have been unloaded, al-Qirbi said.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, began air attacks on the Yemeni rebels earlier this month and fighting is continuing. Iran’s top general denounced the air strikes on Nov. 18 as the start of “state terrorism” that might have consequences for the entire Middle East. Shiite-led Iran is the main regional rival of Sunni Muslim-ruled Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are ferrying weapons from Asab port in Eritrea across the Red Sea to Yemen, Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based intelligence-consulting group, reported Nov. 16, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.
The Iranians buy weapons in Somalia and Eritrea and then load them onto ships at Asab, Stratfor said. They are now taking a longer route that skirts around the tip of the Arabian Peninsula in the Gulf of Aden since Saudi Arabia this month mounted a naval blockade along the coast of Yemen opposite Eritrea, it said.
The Revolutionary Guards have also transported fighters from the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to Yemen to support the Houthis, the Stratfor report said. The Houthi rebels have been fighting the government in the northwestern province of Saada since 2004.
The Yemeni navy said it seized an Iranian-crewed ship loaded with weapons off the coast from a stronghold of the rebels on Oct. 26. Iran denied any involvement.
If the reports of Iranian military aid for the Houthis are true, it will likely force Saudi Arabia to accelerate its military drive against the insurgents, said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
“The Saudis will not tolerate the formation of a Houthi state with close ties to Iran close to its borders,” Karasik said today in a telephone interview.
Saudi security forces struck the Yemeni rebels with Apache helicopters, made by Chicago-based Boeing Co., and artillery as the military secured villages inside the kingdom’s border region with Yemen, al-Watan reported yesterday, without saying where it got the information.
There are “indications” the rebels are getting support from religious groups in Iran and Shiite organizations in Arab countries and Europe, al-Qirbi said, without elaborating.
“Once the evidence mounts and it is made public, then I am sure Iran will rethink its position because they know the implications of it,” al-Qirbi said. “Everybody will understand the danger of such a role.”
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, which is involved in patrolling the Gulf of Aden, declined to comment on the reports of Iranian arms shipments.
Yemen’s government accuses the Houthis of trying to reinstall the rule of Shiite imams who were toppled by a republican revolution in northern Yemen in 1962. The rebels, named after their leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, say they want a greater role for their Zaydi version of Shiite Islam and are rebelling against corruption in the government and Yemen’s alliance with the U.S.
— With assistance from Glen Carey in Riyadh. Editors: Alan Crawford, James Hertling