Has Iran sent missiles to the Houthis in Yemen?

by omouggos

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis meeting with the Saudis.

While touring the Middle East, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Saudi Arabia, presumably in an attempt to solidify ties with a so-called ally of America. While there, Mattis has taken aim at Saudi Arabia’s archenemy Iran. He averred “Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the [Middle East] region, you find Iran.1 More specifically he claimed Iran has been supplying missiles to their Houthi proxies in Yemen, “We see Iranian-supplied missiles being fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia — and this is something, with the number of innocent people dying inside Yemen, that has simply got to [be] brought to an end.2

Of course the Iranians are denying such accusations. Their Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan rejected Mattis’ claims and countered with his own recrimination saying “Today, Takfiri-Wahhabi terrorists [i.e. ISIL and al-Qaeda] are committing crimes in various parts of the world, in Syria and Iraq in particular, using US-made weapons and munitions.3 He also warned that Mattis “and other so-called strategist leaders of the US should be aware that the era of bullying, blame games and interference from a self-righteous position is over…

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan.

In this fledgeling war of words between Iran and the US it is easy to take the side of the former, simply because President Trump seems to be on a war path of sorts after giving what appears to be carte blanche to his military to do what they see fit.4 Talk of sending 150,000 troops to Syria,5 bombing the al Shayrat airbase under what appears to be false pretenses, unleashing the mother of all bombs (MOAB) in Afghanistan, considering launching cruise missiles at ISIL’s mountain hideout in the Sinai,6 sending a small contingent of troops to Somalia,7 continuing to use NATO to encroach on Russia, and having a showdown with the unhinged tyrant of North Korea Kim Jong-un which could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, are these not the actions of a belligerent and imperialistic hegemon attempting to bully other nations, now including Iran, into submission?

That is one way to assess America’s geopolitical behavior under President Trump, and many, particularly those on the left and even some conservatives, would undoubtedly hold such a view, seeing Iran as a victim of sorts and therefore believing their side of the story. But regardless of how the US behaving, is it really the case that Iran is not sending or attempting to send weapons, particularly surface-to-surface missiles (SSM), to their Houthi proxies in Yemen?

UAE vessel damaged by Houthi missile strike.

About six months ago the Houthis were targeting vessels in the waters around Bab el-Mandeb.8 In October they launched a C-802 anti-ship missile which struck and seriously damaged an UAE fast transport boat. Over a week later they launched more C-802’s, this time at US vessels, which were forced to employ defensive countermeasures and fire anti-missile missiles. This prompted the US to subsequently destroy with Tomahawk cruise missiles three radar stations on the Yemeni coast which were used to acquired targets for and guide the C-802 missiles.

C-802 anti-ship missile.

One wonders were did the Houthis get such missiles, which are Chinese made. They obviously did not magically find them in the sun baked deserts of Yemen. According to DEBKAfile the missiles were provided to the Houthis by Iran, and the corresponding radar stations were operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

It is also of interest that MEMRi has just released a translated interview of Iranian cleric Mehdi Taeb, who is close to the Ayatollah Khamenei, in which he admits that Iran has been attempting to send SSM’s to the Houthis. He said:9

“There is only one way to ground the Saudi airforce, and then, (to attack) with surface-to-surface missiles [SSM]. We [Iran] have plenty of missiles and they [Houthis] don’t. Let me tell you, (President Rohani) shares responsibility for all the blood spilled in Yemen. Why? Because his JCPOA blocked the transfer of missiles to (the Houthis). We tried three times and were on the verge of success, but each time, he told us that the Americans had said that if we went ahead, they would not continue the negotiations. Once they [SSMs] were sent on an airplane, once on a warship, and once on another ship. Each time, they were returned because of the JCPOA.”

While what Taeb states does not confirm that Iran has been supply missiles to the Houthis, it does show, if we are to believe what he says, that Iran did and probably still does have the desire to do so. Such weapons are intended to disrupt, if need be, maritime traffic in the Bab el-Mandeb and to threaten Saudi Arabia, as the Houthis and Iranians want control of the Islamic holy site of Mecca.10

While I think Mattis is overstating his case by saying “Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran” and though he is quick to castigate Iran, his ally Saudi Arabia has also done much to destabilize the region and even the world, he is not wrong to view Iran as a problem in the region. Regardless if one may think that Trump has become too bellicose and hawkish, and has given too much leeway to his generals, we must realize that Iran is a legitimate source of problems in the Middle East. Hopefully Trump will be able to find the right mix of firmness and prudence in dealing with the problem of Iran.

O Mouggos


[1] http://www.debka.com/newsupdatepopup/20400/Mattis-in-Riyadh-Wherever-there-s-trouble-in-Mideast-you-find-Iran , http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/04/19/Saudi-King-Salman-meets-US-Secretary-of-Defense-James-Mattis-in-Riyadh.html , http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2017/03/17/Saudi-Deputy-Crown-Prince-Mohammed-bin-Salman-meets-US-Defense-Secretary.html

[2] https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1155545/houthis-firing-iranian-supplied-missiles-into-saudi-arabia-mattis-says/

[3] https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2017/04/19/1384245/iranian-minister-us-should-know-era-of-bullying-over , http://presstv.ir/Detail/2017/04/19/518675/Iran-US-Yemen-Ansarullah-fighters-Hossein-Dehqan-Jim-Mattis

[4] http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-04-16/has-trump-lost-control-pentagon , http://en.protothema.gr/trump-unleashes-the-generals-they-dont-always-see-the-big-picture/

[5] https://medium.com/@Cernovich/h-r-mcmaster-manipulating-intelligence-reports-to-trump-wants-150-000-ground-soldiers-in-syria-83346c433e99

[6] http://www.debka.com/article/26014/US-Tomahawk-cruise-missiles-for-ISIS-Sinai-HQ

[7] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/politics/us-troops-somalia/

[8] Iranian backed Houthi rebels are targeting US navy vessels in the straights of Bab-el-Mandeh

[9] https://www.memri.org/tv/senior-khamenei-advisor-reveals-iranian-attempts-arm-houthis-surface-surface-missiles

[10] Ibrahim Karagul: Islamic civil war over Mecca a possibility