Iran’s relentless delivery of weapons to the Houthis also offers an important insight into the tactics and long-term strategies of Iranian-trained and armed proxies across the Middle East, writes Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Rather than rewarding the Iranian leaders by returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal and lifting sanctions on the regime, the US Biden administration should make addressing Iran’s devastating role in Yemen’s conflict a priority.
The Iranian regime is violating a UN arms embargo by supplying weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts last week accused Iranian entities and individuals of delivering weapons. The annual report by sanctions monitors stated: “There is a growing body of evidence that shows that individuals or entities within Iran are engaged in sending weapons and weapons components to the Houthis.” According to the report, the experts “documented several supply routes for the Houthis in the Arabian Sea using traditional vessels (dhows).” Weapons seized included anti-tank guided missiles, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers similar to those made in Iran. The Biden administration has remained silent in the light of this important report.
This is not the first time UN experts have linked the Iranian regime to the Houthis and their weaponry. A panel of experts reported in 2017 that it was extremely unlikely the Houthis could manufacture such missiles on their own. “The design, characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian-manufactured Qiam-1 missile,” it said.
The Iranian regime is also clearly violating UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
Saudi Arabia has so far been the main target of the Iranian weaponry supplied to the Houthis. But the Houthis can grant Iran critical geopolitical leverage because they are able to fire ballistic missiles into any Gulf country. Iran’s major state-owned newspaper Kayhan, whose editor is a close adviser of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and is appointed by him, had a 2017 front-page headline that read: “The Houthis fired a missile into Riyadh. Dubai is next.”
The Iranian regime and its proxy have continued to demonstrate their fierce and ruthless strategy through acts of terror. In 2017, the Houthis targeted an Abu Dhabi nuclear facility — an act most likely meant to cause mass civilian casualties. Thankfully, the missile fell short.
Even the Iranian leaders have admitted they are helping the Houthis. Influential cleric Mehdi Tayeb has said: “Iran’s catering of missiles to the Houthis was carried out in stages by the Revolutionary Guards and (with) the support and assistance of the Iranian navy.” And, as far back as 2015, then-deputy commander of the Quds Force Esmail Ghaani said: “Those defending Yemen have been trained under the flag of the Islamic Republic.”
The Iranian regime has been intensifying its efforts to advance the Houthis’ missile technology due to the fact the Yemen conflict means more to Iran than merely taunting its Gulf rivals, which it has vowed to destroy. It is, rather, an ideological crusade aimed at uniting the Muslim world under its own Islamist rule — one that will always see any attempts at peace as merely a delay in the process. After all, the revolutionary mission of the regime is part of the regime’s constitution, the preamble of which states that it “provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the revolution at home and abroad.” It goes on to state that Iran’s army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of… extending the sovereignty of God’s (Shiite) law throughout the world… in the hope that this century will witness the establishment of a universal holy government and the downfall of all others.
Iran’s relentless delivery of weapons to the Houthis also offers an important insight into the tactics and long-term strategies of Iranian-trained and armed proxies across the Middle East, which are built on four pillars: Destabilization, conflict, assassination, and the rejection of any solution that has Sunni or Western origins. One example of Iran’s pursuit of these four pillars was the assassination of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2017, two days after he urged a resolution to the conflict — and when the international community was sighing with relief that the three-year-old civil war and seemingly intractable conflict in Yemen was going to be resolved much sooner than expected — he was killed by the Iran-backed Houthi militia.
It is incumbent on the Biden administration to hold the Iranian leaders accountable for defiantly supplying weapons to the Houthis.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.