Iran Aiding Yemeni Rebels

by Patrick Brennan

While Iran is busy supporting the Syrian government, its international covert action group, Quds Force, is at work in Yemen too, supplying cash, training, and weapons to Shiite-affiliated rebels in Yemen. Such efforts are particularly aimed at Saudi Arabia and the United States, both of whom would like to see that state pacified. The Times reports:

In the past several months, Iran appears to have increased its political outreach and arms shipments to rebels and other political figures in Yemen as part of what American military and intelligence officials say is a widening Iranian effort to extend its influence across the greater Middle East.

Iranian smugglers backed by the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are using small boats to ship AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other arms to replace older weapons used by the rebels, a senior American official said. Using intercepted cellphone conversations between the smugglers and Quds Force operatives provided by the Americans, the Yemeni and Indian coastal authorities have seized some shipments, according to the American official and a senior Indian official.

The scale of Iran’s involvement remains unclear, and some Yemeni officials and analysts remain skeptical about the impact of any weapons shipments, citing a long history of dubious accusations by Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional nemesis — and Saudi allies in Yemen. But American officials — who had sometimes dismissed such accusations as propaganda — say there now appears to be at least limited material support from the Iranians.

American officials say the Iranian aid to Yemen — a relatively small but steady stream of automatic rifles, grenade launchers, bomb-making material and several million dollars in cash — mirrors the kind of weapons and training the Quds Force is providing the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It also reflects a broader campaign that includes what American officials say was a failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in October, and what appears to have been a coordinated effort by Iran to attack Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia earlier this year. Iran has denied any role in the attacks.