This refers to “Huge weapons cache seized” (GDN, March 8). Last week, coalition warships seized a huge weapons consignment off the coast of Oman. Iran is believed to be the origin of the consignments according to people close to the matter. Similar incidents have taken place in the past and all point to failed Iranian attempts to supply arms to the Houthi rebels.
Iranians have utilised similar tactics in previous attempts and are likely to continue for a foreseeable future, given its limited access to Yemeni territories. Fishing boats or dhows are used to smuggle weapons. They depart Iran and enter the Omani shores as ‘genuine fishing boats’.
They wait there and monitor the security situation including the movement of surveillance ships, which can potentially detect and intercept them. If one or two “fishing boats” reach the desired destination, out of say 10, then it is a big success for Iran.
Reports show that there are many “fishing boats” that have made their way to Yemen before supplying arms to Houthi rebels. Currently, Iran is intensifying its arms shipments and for good reasons.
The Houthi rebels are losing ground and the remaining army has been stretched thin in the areas it controls. In order to compensate the shortage of manpower, the Houthis resorted to conscripting children. And according to observers, children as old as 11 years are said to be involved in the fighting.
Since the fighting started, Houthis have not received ample amount and variety of weapons it requires to continue fighting against Yemen’s legitimate government’s army except trickles of smuggled weapons. So Iran’s illegal activity is a response to the SOS message sent by Houthis.
Perhaps the suitable point of entry may have been through the port of Hodeida, located in the western part of Yemen along the Red Sea. The port, used to be the main way for Iranian arms supply to the Houthis for a long time, even before the legitimate government was ousted from the capital city, Sana’a.
The coalition of forces led by Saudi Arabia gives special attention to the port and Iranian ships’ movement in the area is absolutely non-existent. Additionally, Iran’s activity in the Red Sea is limited due to its inability to have partners.
Countries on the Western coast of the Red sea including Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia are allies of the Saudi-led coalition forces and have denied Iran a base from which to operate.
Reports indicate, for example, that the Eritrean port city of Assab, just a few kilometres from the Yemeni sea shores, is believed to have been leased by the Saudi and Emirati government forces for the next 30 years!
The Yemeni government on its part has leased out the Island of Socotra, off the coast of Yemen to the UAE government for 99 years!
The island is strategically located and an ideal for a permanent military base.
Such developments in a busy sea lane and an important choke point, will give the Saudi-led coalition an upper hand in controlling the traffic.
Controlling the choke point of Bab Al Mandeb, where millions of barrels of oil including merchandise from the Far East to Europe and vice versa pass through, is a key strategic asset for the Saudi-led coalition which can further limit Iranian subversive activities.
Due to the above geo-strategic disadvantages, Iran’s only means of supplying arms to the Houthis is by smuggling weapons using fishing boats and this illegal activity is expected to continue.
The failed Iranian attempts and the concomitant weapons seizures are wake-up calls for the coalition forces.
Naval patrols should increase surveillance, remain vigilant and monitor the movement of ships and fishing boats.
On several occasions, it has been mentioned that Iranian “fishing boats” were intercepted off the coast of Oman.
The Iranians might have used the Omani sea shores as a sort of ‘transit’ to reach their final destinations. These concerns come at a time when Omani and Iranian maritime officials have inked bilateral trade agreements to use their ports for mutual business ventures.
This trade partnership, however, has brought security concerns for GCC. Omanis need to do their part in controlling weapon smugglers and each fishing boat entering Omani shores should be searched for illegal consignments.
The co-ordinated efforts of Omani coastguards and the coalition warships can break the smuggling routes and prevent further consignments of weapons to Houthi rebels.