WASHINGTON - Both Saudi Arabia and the US now accuse Iran of supplying ballistic missiles to Shiite rebels in Yemen , including one that targeted the kingdom’s capital of Riyadh and its international airport.
Yemen , the Arab world’s poorest country, sits on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman. It looks out onto the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Shiite rebels known as Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. A Saudi-led coalition began battling the Houthis and their allies in September 2015 on behalf of Yemen’s internationally recognized government. The war has killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine.
A top US Air Force general in the Mideast on Friday alleged that missiles fired by the Houthis bore “Iranian markings,” without elaborating or offering pictures. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information later sent military briefing material to The Associated Press showing what they allege to be part of a Houthi Burkan, or “Volcano,” ballistic missile. Writing on the side matched an image of an Iranian Qiam missile. The markings on the alleged Houthi missile also largely matched an AP photograph of a Qiam missile on display in Iran on Sept. 21, 2012, areas of which read “CLAMP HERE” and “SUPPORT HERE.” Another image offered by the Saudis showed the base of the rocket, which resembled that of the Qiam.
WHAT DOES IRAN SAY?
Iran long has denied offering any arms to the Houthis. It has yet to specifically respond to the US general’s comments. However, Mehdi Taeb, an influential hard-line cleric who is a brother to the intelligence chief of the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, said in April that Iran tried three times to send missiles to Yemen , but were stopped by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration over fears of disrupting its nuclear deal with world powers. The Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, oversees Iran’s missile program.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, repeatedly has accused Iran of running armaments into Yemen . It points to seizures over a four-week period in early 2016, when coalition warships stopped three dhows, traditional ships that ferry cargo through the Persian Gulf. The dhows carried thousands of Kalashnikov assault rifles, as well as sniper rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank missiles and other weapons.
One dhow carried 2,000 new assault rifles with serial numbers in sequential order, suggesting they came from a national stockpile, according to the London-based group Conflict Armament Research. The rocket-propelled grenade launchers also bore hallmarks of being manufactured in Iran , the group said.
Conflict Armament Research, with the permission of the United Arab Emirates’ elite Presidential Guard, also examined seized drones used by the Houthis and their allies to crash into Patriot missile batteries in Saudi Arabia. Destroying Patriot missile batteries allows the rebels to fire missiles into Saudi Arabia without interference, and costs the kingdom millions of dollars to repair and replace.
While the Houthis say they manufacture the drones themselves, the research group said the drones share “near-identical design and construction characteristics” of Iranian drones.