Iran has cultivated a close relationship with Yemen’s Houthi rebels for nearly a decade and has emerged as the primary supplier of the missiles and drones it is using to attack commercial ship traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, the Defense Intelligence Agency said in a just-released report.
Tehran views the Houthis as a key strategic ally in its efforts to project power and destabilize the region, agency analysts said in its survey.
“The two have built a relationship that is likely to endure. Iran views the Houthis as an extension of its regional power and the Houthis look to Iran to enhance their military capabilities,” the DIA analysts said.
Since 2014, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has provided the Houthis with a growing arsenal of sophisticated weapons and training that they’ve used to civilian ports and energy infrastructure across the region, along with targeting merchant ship traffic.
“Between 2015 and 2023, the United States and its partners have intercepted at least 18 Iranian smuggling vessels, seizing ballistic missile components, [drones], anti-tank guided missiles and thousands of assault rifles, rocket components and other illicit weapons on their way to the Houthis,” the DIA said.
Intelligence officials say the Houthis have launched drones that are identical in every way other than the name of those used by Iran. In 2018, they began using one they called the “Sammad,” a carbon copy of Tehran’s Sayad unmanned aerial vehicle.
“Both UAVs have notable, nearly identical features including a landing skid under the main airframe and a V-style tail,” the DIA said in their report.
Another example is the Waid 1 UAV, which was spotted in September at a military parade in Yemen. It has several features consistent with Iran’s Shahed-131 drone, including unique wing stabilizers above a distinctive delta-winged body. Both drones also feature a short nose cone and a tube-like fuselage extending down the middle of the airframe, the DIA said.
The Houthis have carried out more than 40 attacks on commercial ships sailing off Yemen’s coast since mid-November. They are continuing to launch strikes against the maritime targets despite being targeted by missiles and attack aircraft from the U.S. and the British.
The rebel group, which has been engaged in a long civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognized government, says it is carrying out the strikes in support of Palestinian Hamas militants battling Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.
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