Houthi Weapon Bonanza - a
Gift From USA
By Gareth Porter
April 23, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "MEE"
- As the Saudi
bombing campaign against Houthi targets in Yemen continues, notwithstanding a
temporary pause, the corporate media narrative about the conflict in Yemen is
organised decisively around the idea that it is a proxy war between Iran on one
side and the Saudis and United States on the other.
Pavlov’s dog this week to a leak by Pentagon officials that it was sending the
aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to the waters off Yemen, supposedly to
intercept Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthis. It turned out that
the warship was being sent primarily to symbolise US support for the Saudis, and
the Pentagon made no mention of Iranian arms when it announced the move. But
the story of the US navy intercepting Iranian arms was irresistible, because it
fit so neatly into the larger theme of Iran arming and training the Houthis as
its proxy military force in Yemen.
News stories on Yemen in
recent months have increasingly incorporated a sentence or even a paragraph
invoking the accusation that Iran has been arming the Houthis and using them to
gain power in the Gulf. The State Department’s principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary Gerald Feierstein nourished that narrative in Congressional testimony
last week depicting Iran as having provided “financial support, weapons,
training and intelligence” to the Houthis. Feierstein acknowledged that the
Houthi movement is “not controlled directly by Iran”, but claimed a “significant
growth in Iranian engagement” with the Houthis in the past year.
Like most popular myths the
dominant narrative of the Houthi movement as Iranian proxy in Yemen is based on
a kernel of truth: the Houthis share the Iranians’ dim views of American
intentions in the Middle East and have sought to take advantage of the Hezbollah
model to enhance their political-military effectiveness.
Houthis rise - myth and reality
But the assumption that the
Houthis have been looking to Iran to train their troops or supply their need for
weapons ignores the most basic facts of their ascendance. The Houthis built up
their military forces from virtually nothing to as many 100,000 troops today
through a series of six wars with Yemeni government troops. In the process they
have not only become much better trained, but have acquired a vast pool of arms
from Yemen’s black market. A
United Nations Experts’ report
earlier this year cites estimates that Yemen is awash with 40 to 60 million
weapons. The Houthis were also getting a continuing stream of modern arms
directly from corrupt Yemeni military commanders from 2004 through 2010.
And in their eagerness to
conform to the general theme of an Iran vs US-Saudi proxy war in Yemen, the
media’s treatment of alleged Iranian arms to the Houthis has ignored the fact
that the Houthis had forged an alliance by early 2014 with a far larger source
of arms: former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was that alliance that
propelled the Houthis into power last September, not their ties with Iran.
After Saleh was forced to step down as president in 2012, the
government supposedly reorganised the military and Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh
was ousted as commander of the Republican Guard. But in fact Saleh continued to
control the military through his allies in most of the command positions. When
the Houthi advanced on Sanaa last September, it was all carefully choreographed
by Saleh. The Houthis were able to take one Yemeni military facility after
another without a fight and enter the capital easily.
Houthi weapon bonanza - a gift from America
In the process, the Houthis acquired a new bonanza of weapons
that had been provided by the United States over the previous eight years.
According to Pentagon documents acquired under the Freedom of Information
Act by Joseph Trevithick, the Defence Department had delivered about $500
million in military hardware to the Yemeni military from 2006 on. The gusher of
new US arms included Russian-made helicopters, more than 100 Humvees with the
latest armor packages, 100s of pickup trucks, rocket propelled grenades,
advanced radios, night vision goggles and millions of rounds of ammunition.
A significant part of that
weaponry and equipment was scooped up by Houthi fighters on their way into Sanaa
and has been visible in the months since then. When the Houthis advanced into
Aden 1 April,
residents reported seeing four tanks and
three armored vehicles as well as Rocket propelled grenades. On 29 March, after
the Saudi bombing campaign had begun, the Houthis were
reported to have
had control of the Yemeni Air Force’s 16 fighter planes, of which eleven had
been destroyed by the bombing.
In light of the reality
that the Houthis are already flush with American arms that may be worth as much
as hundreds of millions of dollars, the flurry of media excitement over the US
Navy sending another warship to intercept an Iranian flotilla of arms is an odd
bit of burlesque that ought to be in an embarrassment.
The one concrete allegation
that has been invoked by media stories in recent months is the case of a ship
called Jihan 1, said to have been laden with Iranian arms, that was intercepted
in early 2013. A
Reuters story last December
cited a list a list of all the items on board provided by a “senior Yemeni
security official,” which included Katyusha rifles, RPGs-7s, tons of RDX
explosives and surface-to-air missiles.
Jihan 1 - murky claims
But the Hadi government
never provided any evidence that the ship was sent by Iran or was intended for
the Houthis. And most of the items mentioned were not even Iranian-manufactured
weapons. The one odd exception was a reference to “Iranian-made night vision
goggles”. That fact suggests that the ship was intended to provide arms to
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which carries out large numbers of terrorist
bombings and would have needed the large supplies of RDX. The Houthis, on the
other hand, are not known to have used that explosive. The UN expert panel
formed to support the UN Security Council sanctions against Houthi commanders
reported that it
had been “unable to independently confirm the allegation” about the Jihan 1.
The Reuters story,
after the Houthis
had acquired a large portion of the Yemeni army’s American arms, quoted a second
Yemeni security official as still claiming that Iranian weapons “are still
coming in by sea and there's money coming in through transfers".
Reuters further claimed
that a “senior Iranian official,” contradicting official Iranian denials, had
told the news agency that “the pace of money and arms getting to the Houthis had
increased since their seizure of Sanaa.” The official allegedly said there were
hundreds of IRGC personnel training the Houthis and six Iranian military
advisers in Yemen. That part of the story appears suspicious to say the least.
The politically convenient
story line that the Houthis are proxies of Iran is hardly new. As a
US diplomatic cable
from Sanaa in 2009 reveals, the Yemeni government had waged a continuing
campaign for years during its wars with the Houthis to persuade the United
States that Iran and Hezbollah were arming and training the Houthis, but had
never produced any real evidence to support the claim.
Ties between the Houthis
and Iran undoubtedly exist, driven by a common distrust of American and Saudi
roles in Yemen and the Houthis’ need for an ideology that would enhance their
power. But the slack-jawed media approach to the story - starting with its
refusal to put the allegations of continuing Iran arms smuggling to the Houthis
in the context of the Houthis bonanza of US arms - has produced the usual fog of
misinformation and confusion.
an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize
for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The
Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.