Reports surfaced last Friday about the arrival of an Iranian ship at the Houthi-controlled al-Saleef port in Hodeidah in northwestern Yemen, unloading more than 180 tons of weapons and equipment. This arms shipment was by no means the first. In October 2009 and January 2013, arms-laden Iranian ships were interdicted off the Yemeni coast carrying advanced weaponry such as C-4 explosives and man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). Reports suggest that there may be many more covert weapons transfers from Iran to its coreligionists in Yemen that go undocumented.
In addition to training and arming the Houthis in Yemen since at least 2009, the Iranians have been busy backing Shiite militias in Iraq, which comprise about two-thirds of the ground forces fighting the Islamic State (IS), but some of them have also targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces in the past. Last week alone, Iran reportedly sent Fajr-5 artillery rockets and Fateh-110 missiles to these militias. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, a militia controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force and whose leaders have been designated by the U.S., announced they would not hesitate to use their newly acquired Iranian anti-aircraft weaponry on “any hostile American or unknown plane.” These Shiite militias have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq; earlier this month Shiite militiamen fighting alongside the Iraqi military made headlines when they executed a terrified Sunni boy and burned numerous villages around Amerli to the ground.
Iranian arms shipments have long contributed to conflicts around the Middle East, making the region the most volatile in the world. Tehran has funneled arms to the Sudanese regime since at least 1991, in a partnership between the two countries that is still ongoing. Iran has also fostered its longstanding arms trade with the terrorist leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and still props up the Assad regime in Syria with vital military support. All of these arms shipments are in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747, which prohibits Iranian weapons shipments of any kind.
Last week, former CIA director David Petraeus commented that “the current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East,” noting the rise of Iranian power in the region is a dangerous phenomenon for American interests. Indeed, Iran’s arms shipments are not born of benign intentions. Rather, Iran is exploiting the chaos in Yemen and Iraq in a bid to emerge as the new hegemon of the Middle East. As Western leaders reassure us that they will not agree to a “bad deal” with Tehran, they have intentionally ignored the regional meddling that only exacerbates the bad deal they seek to avoid.
Oren Adaki is a research analyst and Arabic specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Find him on Twitter: @orenadaki