Arming Yemen's rebels

There are numerous reports today about the "Iranian arms ship" seized on Sunday off the Red Sea coast of Yemen but facts are still scarce. It could be a very significant find or the government – not for the first time – may be making a mountain out of a molehill. Until more is known, it is unwise to jump to any conclusions.

The reports say the Iranian-flagged vessel (its size, type and name are not mentioned) was apprehended off Midi in the far north-west of Yemen and was laden with weapons, "mostly anti-tank shells". There is no indication so far of the quantity.

It is said that the plan was to off-load the weapons near Haradh and hide them in a farm, to be collected later by the Houthi rebels.

Some reports say the vessel had an Iranian crew of five, though others say one is Indian. Alternatively, the five Iraniansare described as "instructors" who had planned to deliver weapons and then evacuate wounded Iranians (who would presumably have been fighting in support of the Houthis). 

It's perhaps worth mentioning that this occurred in an area where there have previously been reports of "exploding fishing boats".

President Salih has previously said the rebels are being funded by "certain Iranian dignatories" rather than the Iranian government itself.

The supply of weapons to the Houthis and other violent elements in Yemen is a very murky business. It is difficult to know what – or who – to believe but there are clearly someprominent Yemenis involved in it for the money rather than politics.

There are ongoing investigations into the affair of the "Chinese arms ship" recently discovered at Hodeida port. The cargo was initially said to be supported by forged defence ministry paperwork but the Chinese importer claims the paperwork is genuine (implying corruption in the defence ministry).

There is also an intriguing story from News Yemen which says that government troops withdrawing from the Raziq area left military equipment behind for the Houthis to pick up. It is implied that this was part of a deal negotiated with the rebels.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 October 2009.