Iranian Arms Shipments to Yemen Violate U.N. Resolutions

November 3, 2016

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs

Mentioned Suspect Entities & Suppliers: 

Author: 

Jerrica Goodson, Simon Chin, and Valerie Lincy

The United States and its allies have interdicted five separate weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen since April 2015—shipments that violate U. N. Security Council resolutions.  According to U.S. Vice Admiral Kevin Donergan, “We know they came from Iran and we know the destination.”[1] The U.S. State Department has also criticized Iranian arms smuggling to Yemen, including the provision of missiles to the Houthis.[2]

This lethal aid violates an arms embargo that was imposed as part of U.N. Security Council resolution 2231 implementing the nuclear agreement with Iran and the resolutions it replaced.[3] It also violates U.N. Security Council resolution 2216, adopted in April 2015, which imposes an arms embargo against the leadership of the Houthi rebels.[4] However, no action has been taken at the United Nations to punish these violations. In a little noticed report released this summer, the Secretary General raised concern over one Iranian arms shipment interdicted by the United States but concluded only that the U.N. was "still reviewing the information provided by the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran" and that he would "provide an update on this arms seizure to the Security Council in due course." [5]

Despite the interdictions, some Iranian arms shipments are clearly making it into Yemen. The U.S. State Department has publicly linked Iran to the ballistic missiles used by the Houthis to strike targets in Saudi Arabia. Last month, Saudi officials reported two separate interceptions of ballistic missiles launched from Yemen: one near the city of Taif on October 10, the other near the city of Mecca on October 28.[6] In an October 11 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby stated, “In the Saudis’ case, their cities, their citizens are under very real, darn-near daily threat from missiles being launched on the Yemeni side of their border, missiles that are provided by Iran to the Houthi rebels.”[7] Another State Department official later told IHS Jane’s that “Iran has provided critical capability and assistance to the Houthis in their campaign to attack Saudi Arabian territory with ballistic missiles and rockets.” [8]

The two failed attacks on U.S. Navy ships last month by cruise missiles launched from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen have also grabbed headlines, though the Pentagon has not yet officially commented on the type or origin of these missiles.[9] Some naval analysts believe that the most likely missile used by the Houthis in this attack is the Noor, an Iranian variant of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missile.[10] Iran has officially denied involvement in the failed missile attacks on the U.S. ships, with a foreign ministry spokesperson saying, “The vague and contradictory remarks by American officials these past days are false, paranoid and inappropriate.”[11]

Iranian arms shipments seized by coalition forces

The following is a description of four Iranian arms shipments destined for the Houthis in Yemen and interdicted by U.S. or allied forces since September 2015.

September 2015: According to a U.N. Panel of Experts on Yemen, U.S. and Australian navy ships stopped the Nassir off the coast of Oman and seized the weapons onboard, including 56 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, 4 TOW optical sights, 4 TOW tripod mounts, 4 TOW launch tubes, 2 TOW battery sets, 2 TOW launch assembly units, 3 TOW missile guidance systems, 14 TOW battery assemblies, and 19 9M113 AT Konkurs.[12] After examining the weapons, the U.N. Panel noted that the equipment bore “the markings bearing the names of Iranian industrial companies” and that the “Konkurs missiles had markings with characteristics similar to Russian and Iranian markings, indicating that they were likely to have been maintained or overhauled in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”[13] Photos from the Panel's report reveal the stamps of Iran Electronics Industries (IEI) and Shiraz Electronics Industries, both of which are Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) subsidiaries and still subject to U.S. and EU sanctions.[14] The Panel also registered the presence of instructions written in Persian for the TOW system.[15]

February 2016: [16] Australia’s HMAS Darwin intercepted a small fishing vessel 170 nautical miles off the coast of Oman and discovered some 2,000 AK-47s, 100 RPGs, 49 PKM general purpose machine guns, 39 PKM spare barrels, and 20 60mm mortar tubes onboard.[17] The U.S. Navy has assessed that the arms originated in Iran, and U.S. military sources say the shipment was likely intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen.[18] Jane’s reports that the seized RPGs had green heat-resistant covers, a feature most often seen on RPG-7s manufactured by Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO), an entity subject to U.N. sanctions.[19] One of the photos included in the report also shows that some of the machine guns found were North Korean Type 73s. This weapon is only in use by the North Korean and Iranian militaries, according to Jane's.[20]

March 20, 2016: A helicopter operating with the French Navy's frigate Provence encountered a suspicious dhow off the coast of the Yemeni island of Socotra. French forces boarded the craft and found a cache of arms hidden under fishing nets.[21] The U.S. Navy later confirmed the find to include almost 2,000 Ak-47s, 64 Dragunov sniper rifles, 9 anti-tank missiles, and other equipment.[22] An analysis by Jane’s again notes the presence of Type 73 machine guns in one of the photos provided by the French Ministry of Defense.[23]

March 28, 2016: Two U.S. Navy ships encountered and boarded a dhow transiting international waters near the Gulf of Oman and discovered a large weapons cache onboard, including 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG-7 and RG-7V Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers (RPGs), and 21 DshK 12.7mm machine guns. After interviewing members of the crew and analyzing the seized arms, U.S. authorities concluded the weapons had originated in Iran and were most likely bound for Yemen.[24] Iran has denied the allegation and claims it “has never engaged in such delivery.”[25]

Despite mounting public evidence of continued Iranian arms transfers to Yemen in violation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions, little appears to have been done at the United Nations. In a July 25 report, the U.N. official in charge of overseeing implementation of U.N. resolution 2231 stated that he “look[ed] forward to a formal reply in due course” from Iran about the report of the March 28 arms seizure.[26] However, no formal action has been taken. The other confirmed interdictions have not been raised publicly at the United Nations.

Under prior U.N. resolutions, a dedicated U.N. panel of experts was charged with monitoring the implementation of sanctions against Iran. This independent panel investigated possible violations and proposed sanctions designations in response. It played a valuable role in scrutinizing and publicizing a number of illicit Iranian arms exports. Unfortunately, in response to Iranian demands, the U.N. panel on Iran was dissolved when the nuclear agreement took effect at the beginning of this year. Now, it appears, officially documented reports of repeated Iranian violations face a dead-end diplomatic process at the United Nations, in which the absence of consensus among Security Council members stalls any action.

 

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