Iranian navy port appears key to suspected arms smuggling into Yemen, UN report says

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Iranian navy port appears key to suspected arms smuggling into Yemen, UN report says

Thousands of rocket launchers, machine guns, sniper rifles and other weapons seized from the Arabian Sea by the US Navy in recent months likely came from a single port in Iran, according to a confidential report by the US Navy. United Nations which provides some of the most detailed evidence. that Tehran exports arms to Yemen and elsewhere.

The draft report prepared by a UN Security Council panel of experts on Yemen said small wooden boats and land transporters were used in attempts to smuggle Russian-made weapons into China and Iran along the routes to Yemen that the US military has tried to shut down for years. down. The boats departed from the Iranian port of Jask on the Arabian Sea, according to the UN report, citing interviews with the Yemeni crews of the boat and data from navigation instruments found on board.

Iran has openly supported the Houthis in their conflict in Yemen and abroad against targets in Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea, but has long denied providing the group with weapons. Iran told the UN panel that its weapons had not been sold, transferred or exported to Yemen. A spokesperson for the Iranian mission to the UN said he could not comment immediately.

Once an obscure port that exported fruit and vegetables to Oman, Jask is a small port town in southeast Iran that has grown to strategic importance over the past decade. In 2008, it began hosting a naval base, and an oil export terminal opened there last year. U.S. officials have said Jask was being used as a starting point for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the UN report provides the first detailed report of evidence regarding specific arms deliveries related to the port.

The persistent ability of Yemen’s Houthis to obtain contraband weapons helped give the group the upper hand in a seven-year civil war, according to the report, despite the intervention of Saudi Arabia and an Arab coalition that has used air power to pound rebel positions. The Houthis control Yemen’s capital, San’a, and its main port, Hodeidah, and move closer to the oil-rich city of Marib.

Nasr al-Din Amir, deputy head of the Houthi information ministry, said the UN panel on Yemen was not neutral and called Iran arms smuggling in the country of “illusion”. He said an air and sea blockade did not allow entry of basic necessities into Yemen, “let alone suspected weapons.”

“Seaports and airports are closed, so how can these suspected weapons get to us? Mr. Amir said.

The UN panel’s findings – which are part of a larger report on Yemen sanctions reviewed by the Wall Street Journal – provide a rare, detailed look at alleged Iranian support for armed groups across the Middle -East. The issue hovered over talks in Vienna to relaunch an international deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, with Israel and some Persian Gulf states calling for more limits on Iran’s support for militias.

The US military has tried for years, with varying degrees of success, to stifle the flow of arms to the Houthis. The arms deliveries to the Houthis violate a UN arms embargo imposed on the rebel group since 2015.

The UN panel took a close look at two shipments confiscated by the US Navy in 2021 and one by Saudi Arabia in 2020, which the report said likely originated from Jask.

A small wooden ship known as the dhow was intercepted in southern Pakistan in the Arabian Sea by the US Navy in May 2021 after leaving Jask, according to the report. The boat contained 2,556 assault rifles and 292 Chinese-made multipurpose machine guns and sniper rifles around 2017, according to the report, as well as 164 other machine guns and 194 rocket launchers consistent with those produced in Iran.

The ship also contained telescopic sights made in Belarus. Minsk told the UN that the equipment was delivered to the Iranian armed forces between 2016 and 2018. The Belarusian mission to the UN did not respond to a request for comment. The other weapons seized initially came from Russia and Bulgaria.

“The mix of weapons indicates a common pattern of supply, likely from government stocks, involving dhows in the Arabian Sea, which transport weapons to Yemen and Somalia,” the report said. He added that the thermal weapon sights seized in June 2021 at a crossing between Oman and Yemen were also manufactured by an Iranian-Chinese partnership.

The UN panel said it could not say who the seized weapons were for, but the location of the seizures, which also includes the Gulf of Aden and Pakistani and Somali waters, has previously been described by the United States as transit routes for Iranian deliveries. to the Houthis.

In February 2021, a wooden boat laden with weapons, piloted by a Yemeni crew, was seized by the United States as it was about to transfer its cargo to another small vessel near Somalia, according to the UN report. The ship was carrying 3,752 assault rifles which likely came from Iran, based on their technical characteristics, along with hundreds of other weapons such as machine guns and rocket launchers, according to the report.

Last month, the U.S. Navy said it seized 8,700 weapons in 2021, including 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds confiscated from a fishing boat with five Yemeni crew members who America said , came from Iran in December.

Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, said the December seizure was “another example of how malicious Iranian activity is prolonging the war in Yemen,” where UN and state efforts United to negotiate a ceasefire have repeatedly failed. Mr Price said contraband weapons were helping the Houthis in their efforts to capture Marib, a strategic Yemeni town on the border with Saudi Arabia.

“Iran has developed a multitude of ways to deliver arms to Yemen and has never stopped,” a senior US official said. “Every time we make new seizures Iran finds a new way to move weapons.”

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