Almasdar Online tracks the web of smuggling routes Iran uses to secretly deliver drones, missiles and other military technology to the Houthis
Special Report: How Iran smuggles weapons to Yemen
“All of the weapons that the [Houthis] possess is thanks to our aid.” With this clear sentence, the senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), General Rustam Qasimi, ended the state of denial and ambiguity surrounding Iranian efforts to arm their proxy in Yemen for more than a decade.
Delivered in an interview with Russia Today news outlet, Qasimi’s public statement is the first of its kind from a high-ranking IRGC official. He confirms Tehran's involvement in supplying the Houthis with weapons and goes on to say that Iranian advisors have trained Houthi forces to manufacture weapons including missiles and drones. Iran’s ministry of foreign affairs rejected Qasimi’s statement, stating that Tehran only provides political support for Yemen. Qasimi reiterated his comments in a tweet.
The Houthi movement is an intellectual and cultural extension of the Iranian regime, and it enjoys special support and care from Tehran, given that the results of the war waged by the Houthis may help determine the future of the expansionist Iranian project in the wider region. Backing the Houthis furthers Iran’s strategic goal to exert influence over Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.
Evidence of overt Iranian support for the Houthis appeared shortly after the Houthi coup that unseated the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in Yemen’s capital Sana’a in September 2014. Iran established an air bridge in early March 2015 to Sana’a airport for the first time in years, with 14 flights per week. According to Yemeni officials, Tehran used those flights to transfer IRGC experts and military technology. Iranian officials claimed the flights were delivering humanitarian assistance via the Iranian Red Crescent.
In March 2017, Reuters reported on Iran’s intention to bolster the Houthis and consolidate their control in the region, calculating that the war they were waging would “help determine the balance of power in the Middle East."
An unnamed senior Iranian official told Reuters that then-commander of the Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani, met with senior IRGC officials in Tehran in February 2017 to discuss ways to "empower" the Houthis. The Quds Force is the foreign operations wing of the IRGC that implements Iran's expansionist project in the region by supporting sectarian militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
At the meeting they agreed to increase the volume of assistance to the Houthis through training, weapons and financial support, given that "Yemen is the region in which the war is fought by real proxy," the source said.
Iranian smuggling not limited to weapons
Although Yemeni officials have accused Iran of supporting and arming the Houthi dating back to the beginning of the six so-called Sa’ada wars between the Houthis and the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from 2004 to 2010, the first seizure of Iranian weapons bound for the Houthis was announced in early 2010.
A confidential United Nations report submitted to the UN Security Council in April 2015 stated that Iran had provided weapons to the Houthis since at least 2009, noting that during this period Iran had transferred five arms shipments to the group, in addition to the highly publicized "Jihan 2" shipment that was seized by Yemeni security services in 2013.
The supply of Iranian weapons steadily increased in quantity and quality following the Houthi coup and the Saudi-led coalition military intervention in support of the Yemeni government on March 26, 2015. The weapons shipments include ballistic missile technologies, drones, advanced naval mines and modern communications equipment.
According to the Reuters report in March 2017, Iran has intensified the shipment of weapons supplies to the Houthis, including advanced weapons, military advisors and other forms of support, noting that the support matches the strategy that Tehran has adopted to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.
In addition to weapons, Tehran has provided Afghan military experts to train Houthi units and to act as advisors on logistics, Iranian and regional sources told Reuters. Among them are Afghans who fought in Syria under the supervision of Quds Force commanders.
Houthi smuggling operations also include illicit and prescription drugs, other types of medicine, petroleum products, foodstuffs, cigarettes, fertilizers and agricultural pesticides that are sold at exorbitant prices on black markets run by Houthi loyalists to generate revenue for the war effort.
In an attempt to prevent Iranian weapons supplies from reaching the Houthis, the Saudi-led coalition imposed an arms embargo authorized by the UN Security Council in April 2015. These measures were quickly circumvented as Yemeni fishermen and others were recruited to carry out smuggling operations.
Before the arms embargo, Iran used commercial ships manned by Iranians, Afghanis and Shia Arabs to deliver weapons to the Houthis. For the most part, the shipments were carried out undetected along Yemen’s largely unpatrolled coast that stretches more than 2,500 kilometers along the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
According to multiple sources, including a counter-smuggling security official who spoke to Almasdar Online on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, the foreign smuggling routes are numerous and varied. Some ships sailed from Iran to Thailand, then from Thailand to Yemen because there is less suspicion of goods coming from Thailand to Yemeni ports.
The sources said that land-based smuggling through the Sultanate of Oman to the Yemeni governorate of Al-Mahra is one of the main routes, and despite complaints by the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government to the Omani authorities, they continue to allow or ignore smuggling operations. Omani officials have not responded to a request for comment regarding these allegations.
Smugglers also use the port of Djibouti to smuggle the goods under the cover of fake companies or organizations. The illicit cargo is then unloaded in coordination with the smugglers and owners of small boats who transport it to Yemeni coasts. According to the sources, the Zila area, close to the border with Djibouti, is one of the main locations where weapons smugglers set out for Yemen.
On May 7, 2020, the Yemeni Coast Guard arrested an Iranian weapons smuggling cell in the Bab al-Mandab area. The four members of the cell were from the districts of Al-Khawkha and Hays in Yemen’s coastal governorate of Hodeidah. They were working as fishermen before they were recruited by Houthi leaders at separate times between 2015 and 2019 to smuggle weapons from Iran to Yemen.
In a purported video confession published by the Saudi-led coalition-backed Joint Forces led by commander Tariq Saleh in mid-August 2020, the cell members say they were recruited and trained in Iran on how to smuggle weapons shipments from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to the shores of Yemen.
Sources told Almasdar Online that the smugglers also use a variety of Somali ports, including the Port of Allayouh, Bosasah, Bandar Bella Marina, Bandar Qasim Marina and Ras Qari Marina.
Iran's smuggling of weapons come despite several UN Security Council resolutions since 2007 that prohibit Tehran from exporting certain weapons technologies, and obliges all countries to prevent the shipment of such weapons. A UN sanctions committee was formed at the time to follow up on the implementation of the arms ban.
Existing and new weapons stockpiles
About three weeks after the launch of the Saudi-led military intervention, the coalition announced that it had neutralized about 95% of the Yemeni air defenses and destroyed heavy weapons and ballistic missiles that the Houthis seized from Yemeni army bases and camps. About two months later, on June 16, 2015, the first Houthi Scud missile attack on Saudi territory was recorded.
Between June 2015 and late 2016, the Houthi movement carried out 60 rocket and missile attacks on Saudi territory. According to a survey conducted by the UN Security Council's panel of experts, Yemen had a stockpile of at least 18 Scud missiles, 18 SS-1 missiles and 90 Hwaseong-6 (Scud C) missiles.
These attacks coincided with a propaganda campaign in which the Houthis claimed they had manufactured the missiles in Yemen. However, the panel of experts ruled out the possibility that the Houthis had “locally manufactured new types of missiles.”
Despite the air blockade and measures banning merchant ships, smugglers have succeeded in delivering military and logistical supplies to the Houthis with minimal losses.
A high-ranking Yemeni military source who worked on counter-smuggling told Almasdar Online that the smuggling shipments are of two types. The first includes regular equipment and materials that enter Yemen through official channels such as ports via land or sea freight, but which are later used to facilitate military purposes, such as Iranian-gifted oil to generate revenue. The second type of shipment consists of the weapons themselves, or the components that makeup the weapons, which are sent to the Houthis through professional smuggling networks. Government security services have seized a variety of weapons shipments, including communications equipment and components for unmanned drones, the source said.
The source confirmed previous reports, such as the 2017 findings of the UN panel of experts, regarding strong indications of the supply of weapons-related materials manufactured in or coming from Iran to the Houthis, especially short-range ballistic missiles and drones. The Houthis have repeatedly claimed to be manufacturing these rockets locally.
According to a counter-smuggling security source who spoke to Almasdar Online, the Houthis are now focusing on smuggling specific high-value weapons parts that can be assembled locally, thus relying on experts who are more knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with them on arrival.
The presence of more sophisticated weapons and weapons experts in Houthi-controlled areas has allowed the group to intensify and increase the accuracy of attacks on sites in Saudi Arabia and in their domestic battles, especially in Marib and Taiz governorates.
Stages of smuggling
Based on the purported confessions of captured smugglers, conversations with specialists and investigative reports, the process of smuggling Iranian weapons to Yemen mostly takes place via the sea and then over land. The maritime phase is divided into three stages. The first phase starts from Iranian ports and ends at a specific point between the Sea of Oman and Iran. From there, the second phase begins and the arms are shipped to points off the coasts of Oman and Yemen, or to an intermediary country such as Thailand, Somalia and Djibouti. At that point, the third phase of the smuggling journey carries the weapons shipments to less than 10 kilometers from Yemen’s shores.
The route of smuggling of arms shipments at the maritime stage is subject to the nature of international inspection procedures in Yemeni waters, and smugglers often go to the shores of Somalia and Djibouti to avoid checkpoints, and from there another team begins to deliver the shipments to the shores of Yemen, usually preceded by fake shipments to explore the smuggling route.
According to a Coast Guard officer, cargo boats advance 10 kilometers ahead of smuggling boats in order to alert the smugglers of any signs of search or interception vessels.
As soon as the weapons shipments arrive on Yemeni shores, they are transferred to secret warehouses, where they are divided into batches and loaded onto trucks and cargo vehicles transporting commercial goods to Houthi-controlled areas in Sana’a and Sa’ada.
As for arms shipments that reach Omani ports, they are shipped and smuggled either through the land ports between Yemen and Oman, or they are transported in fishing boats to the coasts of Yemen’s Al-Mahra and Hadramout governorates, after which the land-based smuggling phase begins, as previously described.
Confessions of a smuggler
The leader of one of the smuggling networks, Alwan Futaini, said in a video confession that about two months after he agreed to work with the Houthis in 2015, he traveled to Oman aboard one of the UN “mercy flights” that were organized to transport seriously ill patients to foreign medical centers if treatment was not available in Houthi-controlled areas. From Oman, Futaini was transferred to Iran, where he and his companions received IRGC training on smuggling operations, including how to use maps, navigate with GPS and drive boats.
After completing the necessary training at Iranian naval bases, Futaini and other trainees were assigned to a smuggling operation, he said. However, after a month of waiting in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the operation was cancelled due to "strict maritime inspection procedures" and they were told to return to Yemen at the end of 2015.
Futaini, who is now in a prison run by the Joint Forces (UAE-backed Yemeni forces fighting on the Red Sea coast, which include the Republican Forces, the Giants Brigades and the Tahami Resistance) went on to carry out several smuggling operations. The first trip began about two months after his return from Iran, when he was asked to transport two shipments of dates and Tuna fish from the Somali port of Berbera to Yemen. On each of those shipments, his boat inspected the route about 10km ahead of a boat carrying weapons. A Yemeni military commander told Almasdar Online that this tactic is commonly used for shipments that are smuggled from the coasts of Somalia and Djibouti to the Red Sea coasts of Yemen, where inspection vessels are concentrated. The commander said that the surveillance role is given to new and inexperienced smugglers working with the Houthis.
The second trip was about a month after the end of the first, when Futaini was asked to move with others to the coast of Al-Mahra, where they smuggled three shipments of weapons in separate operations. For each of those shipments, Futaini’s smuggling cell was given coordinates for meeting points off the Omani coast with boats loaded with weapons coming from Iran. The shipments were then delivered in a redat a specific arrival point off the coast of Al-Mahra, where another group connected to the smuggling network received the arms and transported them to the coast and then supervised their smuggling over land to Houthi-controlled areas.
After that, Futaini moved from the Mahri port of Nishtun, accompanied by Houthi leader Ahmed Hels aboard a small boat to the Sea of Oman, where they met a larger boat with weapons coming from Iran. They transferred two shipments of weapons from that boat to the port of Khalfoot in Al-Mahra, and delivered them to the same group that had received the other recent shipments.
Futaini and three other smugglers in his cell were captured in early 2020 before the start of a planned operation to transport weapons from Iran to multiple points on the coasts of Somalia and Djibouti and then to Yemen.
Until 2015, Yemen’s coasts were exposed to all types of smuggling operations, including the smuggling of Iranian weapons, which flowed into the country mainly via the shores of Hodeidah and Hajjah governorates due to their proximity to the Houthi stronghold in Sa’ada governorate in northwest Yemen.
After the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition, the subsequent UN arms embargo and the tightening of smuggling networks in Bab al-Mandab and in the Red Sea, smuggling operations across the western coasts of Yemen decreased somewhat and smugglers relied more on the eastern coasts. The coasts and ports of Al-Mahra became the top destination of smugglers, followed by the coasts of Shabwa and Hadramout governorates.
Almasdar Online was able to map Yemen’s internal, land-based smuggling networks based on information from smugglers, specialized military commanders and security officers. The Houthis use seven main networks of land routes to smuggle weapons and related components to their final destinations which are often secret warehouses in Sana’a and Sa’ada. Three of the land networks have run through the eastern governorates of Al-Mahra, Hadramout and Shabwa, while the remaining four run through governorates along Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Eastern smuggling routes
MAP - EASTERN YEMEN SMUGGLING NETWORKS (Almasdar Online English)
Click here for high-resolution map of Yemen
The first network of land smuggling routes runs from Al-Mahra through Hadramout governorate, and from there it takes either the Shabwa-Al-Bayda road leading to Houthi-controlled areas or follows the Al-Abr-Marib-Al-Bayda road into Houthi-held areas. Alternatively, once smugglers reach Al-Abr, they take a desert road along the border with Saudi Arabia, passing through Al-Jawf governorate to the Houthi stronghold of Sa’ada. According to the sources, most of the smuggling along this network includes weapons, missile parts, drones and military manufacturing supplies.
In 2016, a checkpoint in Marib governorate seized a cargo truck with an Al-Mahra license plate carrying a shipment of weapons, including 24 thermal missiles, which were hidden in compartments that were specially designed for smuggling operations. The truck driver then denied knowledge of the shipment. He said that he had been hired to transport the truck from the Sarfayt land port in Al-Mahra to Sana'a. He had travelled from Al-Mahra along Yemen’s southern coast through Al-Rayyan and Al-Mukalla in Shabwa governorate, before being stopped in a search in Marib.
Al-Mahra, with its sea and land ports, has become a lifeline for the Houthis, providing them with Iranian fuel and weapons. In addition to the fact that Al-Mahra’s coasts are closest to Iran, the governorate shares a long land border with Oman, which maintains good relations with Iran and claims to remain neutral regarding the war in Yemen. The Houthis have sought to buy the loyalties of tribal, military and civilian leaders from Al-Mahra to help them facilitate and secure smuggling operations, according to multiple sources in Al-Mahra.
Shahen port is the largest land port on Yemen’s Omani border, across which military equipment and advanced communications equipment was transported via trucks until 2019 without inspection. South of Shahen is the smaller Sarfayt land port, which was the site of continuous smuggling of weapons and related equipment that were hidden inside transport vehicles and covered with regular goods. Smuggling operations through these land ports have decreased slightly with the deployment of Saudi forces in Al-Mahra in recent years.
According to a high-ranking Yemeni security official, the materials are transported from Hoof, Jazib and Sarfayt areas to the governorate’s capital of Al-Ghaydah, and then smuggled to Ramah and Thamud areas of Hadhramout governorate along dirt roads, instead of paved roads to avoid military checkpoints. After the smuggled cargo reaches Ramah or Thamud, another group receives them from the Sayer area, and the smugglers reach Al-Abr in northwestern Hadhramout near the border with Marib and Al-Jawf governorates.
The second network of overland smuggling routes run from the shores of Hadramout governorate, after being delivered by small fishing boats from Somalia or from ship-to-ship transfers at sea. These ships unload their cargo into small fishing bays near the port of Mukalla. The weapons are then transported to Al-Shihr from the Dafika junction leading to Ghayl Ba Wazir, and are then smuggled via three secondary roads that end in Sana’a or Sa’ada governorates.
The third network of land-based smuggling routes started in Shabwa governorate. Given that Shabwa’s coasts are relatively far from international control measures and closer to Houthi-controlled areas than Al-Mahra and Hadramout, the land-based routes crossing Shabwa emerged for a time as the second most important channels for smuggling Iranian weapons after Al-Mahra.
During the first three years of the war, the Houthis controlled parts of Shabwa and used a number of temporary ports near the ports of Bi’r Ali and Balhaf, including the Majdaha ports for smuggling. During that period, Qana, Al-Aleeb and Kidah ports all witnessed great activity in receiving shipments of smuggled weapons, which were then transported overland to the governorates of Al-Bayda, Dhamar and Sana'a.
After the shipment of weapons arrived at one of the ports of Shabwa, the land-based smuggling journey ran towards Azzan city in Mayfa'a district, passing through Habban and Shabwa’s capital Ataq to Markha Al-Sufla and Bayhan districts, and then to Al-Bayda governorate. From there, the Houthis transported the shipments to their final destination. Smuggling operations declined across the coasts of Shabwa after the governorate was liberated from the Houthis in late 2017.
During the past five years, many arms shipments have been seized in the governorates of Al-Jawf, Marib and Bayhan, all of which were coming from the eastern coasts of Yemen or were smuggled through Al-Mahra’s land ports with Oman. The shipments were either loaded in large trucks, hidden under other shipments such as chicken boxes or stored in false boxes in trailer units.
Western smuggling routes
MAP - WESTERN YEMEN SMUGGLING NETWORKS (Almasdar Online English)
Click here for high-resolution map of Yemen
Along Yemen’s western coast, stretching from the Bab al-Mandab Strait to the Saudi border, the first network of smuggling routes passes through the coast of Yemen’s northwest Hajjah governorate. Being the closest to the Houthis’ main stronghold in Sa’ada governorate, the Hajjah routes are some of the most important for the group. Before the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition and implementation of the UN arms embargo against Iran, weapons shipments often docked at the port of Midi in northern Hajjah.
However, smuggling activities via the coastal area around Midi declined greatly after Yemeni army forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition took control of the area in early January 2016. Since then the Houthis have shifted smuggling routes further south along coastal areas of Hajjah’s Abs district near the border with Hodeidah governorate, which remains under Houthi control.
The land route that starts in Abs passes through either Haradh or Mastaba districts, and then onward to Sa’ada through Haydan district, or through Hajjah city toward Sana’a.
After taking control of Sa’ada governorate in 2010, the Houthis pushed many of its leaders there to buy vast tracts of agricultural land along the Red Sea coast. According to local sources and intelligence reports viewed by Almasdar Online, these areas were then developed into smuggling routes leading to Sa’ada via mountain roads.
The second network of overland smuggling routes in western Yemen begins on the coasts of Hodeidah governorate, which represents the most important artery for Houthi-controlled areas. Hodeidah has six main ports, five of which are still under the group’s control: Hodeidah, Al-Saleef, Ras Issa, Al-Khouba and Al-Lehya. Despite the UN arms embargo, Iranian-provided cash, fuel and weapons continue to flow to the Houthis through these ports. Weapons are often smuggled into the port in small boats from the coasts of Somalia and Djibouti.
Hodeidah ports have also been a main conduit for donated Iranian oil shipments, the revenues from which Houthis use to finance their war efforts. After weapons arrive through these ports, they are either stored near the coast or transported to Sana'a or other Houthi-controlled areas via commercial cargo trucks.
The third network of routes is in Taiz. The smuggling line starts from Al-Wazi’iya district, either passing through Al-Shamayatayn, Al-Maafar and Al-Dimna, reaching the Houthi areas of control in Al-Hawban, or from Al-Wazi’iya through Al-Kadaha area, and from there either eastward toward Taiz city, or south to Al-Masrakh and onward to Houthi-controlled areas.
The fourth network of smuggling lines starts from the coasts of Lahj governorate, whether through Ras Al-Arah or Khor Amira, which are located along the governorate’s 150 km-long coastline. From there, the shipments proceed along routes in two general directions. The first is through Al-Wazi’iya district in the western part of Taiz. The other route leads from the Lahj coast to Tour Al-Baha in the northern part of the governorate before passing either through Haifan in eastern Taiz, or proceeding toward the Lahj districts of Al-Qobaytah and Al-Musimir to Houthi-controlled Al-Dhalea governorate.
The coasts of Lahj have witnessed a great deal of smuggling activity during the war. In July 2016, a popular resistance group fighting the Houthis announced the seizure of boats in the Ras Al-Arah area, carrying large quantities of weapons. After interviewing the smugglers, it became clear that they were coming from Iran toward areas north of the Bab al-Mandab strait. It was also revealed through the investigations seen by Almasdar Online that the weapons that were found constituted that smuggling cell’s seventh shipment to the Houthis.
The Al-Sabbihah tribes in these areas of Lahj had complained since the beginning of 2015 about the rise of smuggling in the governorate, especially through the Al-Arak route leading from the coast to Tour Al-Baha.
Iranians typically smuggle arms shipments in the initial marine phase, before handing them off to Houthi leaders from Sa’ada governorate who supervise their smuggling to Yemen’s coasts and over land. However, it is regular Yemenis usually drawn from the trucking and fishing industries who do most of the actual smuggling and carry the bulk of the risk of the weapons transfers.
Yemeni government officials told Almasdar Online that they are convinced that the Omani intelligence service is responsible for coordinating, or at a minimum, facilitating the smuggling of specific types of weapons such as ballistic missiles targeting civilians in Marib, as well in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The Houthis also recruit private smuggling networks that work for arms and drug dealers.
According to intelligence reports of the internationally recognized government’s National Security Bureau that were viewed by Almasdar Online, a Houthi leader named M. S. Al-Moayad is the top coordinator of smuggling operations outside Yemen and is currently based in Iran. Although Houthi authorities announced his death, the sources questioned the veracity of this information and stated that he was leading the coordination process for smuggling drones and missile parts.
According to the confessions of the captured smugglers, the identities of other Houthi officials involved in IRGC-led arms smuggling networks in Yemen include: Houthi leader Mohammad Ahmad Al-Talbi, nicknamed Abu Jaafar Al-Talbi, Ahmed Hels, who is in charge of smuggling in Hodeidah via the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, Ibrahim Helwan, nicknamed Abu Khalil, who handles maritime smuggling operations from Iran to the Sea of Oman, Ali Al-Halhali, who oversees smuggling from the Sea of Oman to the Mahri coast and Abdulaziz Mahrous, who handles smuggling operations in the Gulf of Aden. Mahrous was among the crew arrested during the capture of the Iranian ship "Jehan 1" in 2013. The Houthis released him four days after seizing control of Sana’a in a coup d’etat in late September 2014.
Al-Talbi holds the rank of major general in the Houthi military, which appointed him director of procurement in the Houthi Ministry of Defense, working under the supervision of the Houthi leader, Saleh Musfer Al-Shaer, who was appointed assistant to the chief of logistical staff in the ministry.
Well-known arms dealers in Yemen, such as Faris Manna, Hamid Dahash, Daghassan Ahmad Daghassan, Ali Nasser Qersha, and Abdul Rahim Al-Sawadi are all Houthi loyalists. They use their networks, which they have built over decades, to benefit the group. Almasdar Online obtained a list of businessmen, companies and institutions involved in smuggling operations, which Almasdar reserves the right to publish. Most of the businessmen, including a person called "A.N," are based in Salalah, Oman. Houthi leader Akram Al-Jilani is mentioned several times in the list and is described as managing the smuggling teams inside Yemen.
On the Iranian side, Abdul Reza Shahla’i is one of Tehran’s most senior IRGC Quds Force figures in Yemen.
Washington had targeted Shahla’i in an airstrike on the same day that a US drone killed Qassem Soleimani, who was then the top commander of the Quds Force. Shahla’i survived, four American officials told the Washington Post.
In December 2019, the US State Department offered a $15 million reward to anyone who provides information that leads to his arrest or killing for involvement in terrorist activities, including smuggling advanced weapons to the Houthis. The announcement followed a US Navy seizure of advanced weapons and missiles in the Arabian Sea from Iran on its way to Yemen.
With the significant increase in the Houthi arsenal of Iranian weapons, their attacks on residential neighborhoods and other civilian targets are increasing, whether inside Yemeni cities or in Saudi territory. These attacks have escalated dramatically since the beginning of 2021.
There are no accurate statistics on the number of Houthi missile and drone attacks on Yemeni cities, or on the number of civilian casualties or material damage to public and private property they have caused.
In Marib governorate alone, ballistic missiles and other projectiles launched by the Houthis on residential neighborhoods have killed 469 civilians and injured 1,119 civilians, including women and children, between August 2014 and December 2020, according to Marib’s Human Rights Office. In addition to Houthi-fired projectiles, landmines planted by the group in Marib’s streets and public places injure or kill people on a near daily basis.
Unanchored floating sea mines developed with Iranian assistance and planted by Houthi forces along Yemen’s Red Sea coast threaten the lives and livelihood of Yemenis and pose a threat to international shipping in the Red Sea and around the Bab al-Mandab Strait.
Documented seizures of arms shipments from Iran to Yemen
April 2009: The crew of an unknown Iranian ship transported weapons crates in international waters to Yemeni boats. Then the boxes were transferred to a farm in Yemen for use by the Houthis (UN report)
March 2010: The Yemeni Navy seized an Iranian ship off the Socotra archipelago from the coast of the Horn of Africa, with 16 sailors on board, all of whom were Pakistani, except for the ship's owner and its Iranian captain, while trying to smuggle prohibited items.
January 2011: The Yemeni Coast Guard seized the Iranian ship "Jihan 1", carrying a shipment of weapons smuggled to the Houthis, including explosives, Katyusha rockets, surface-to-air missiles, C4 used to manufacture bombs and Iranian night-goggles.
February 2011: Yemeni Coast Guard forces seized an Iranian fishing boat while it was transporting 900 anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles manufactured in Iran and the cargo was destined for the Houthis.
March 2013: Yemeni security services seized the Iranian ship "Jihan 2" while trying to enter the Yemeni coast with a shipment of weapons on board while trying to smuggle it to the Houthis. This came while the case of the first ship "Jihan 1" was not closed.
September 2015: The Arab coalition intercepted a ship southeast of the port of Salalah and arrested its crew of 14 Iranians, including anti-armor and anti-tank missiles, missile battery crews, guidance systems, batteries for night vision scopes, launchers and a launcher holder
April 2016: US forces seized an Iranian weapons shipment that was in its way to the Houthis and hidden in a dhow. It included 1,500 Kalashnikovs, 200 rocket-propelled grenades and 21 (50 mm) automatic rifles.
February 2016: The Australian frigate "Darwin" confiscated large quantities of weapons on board a fishing boat off the coast of Oman, including 2000 weapons, including machine guns, 100 rocket launchers, automatic rifles, mortar launchers and various ammunition.
March 20, 2016: The French frigate "Provence" stopped a boat near the island of Socotra and confiscated large quantities of weapons, including 2000 Kalashnikov rifles, 64 Iranian sniper rifles, and 9 Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles.
March 28, 2016: The American destroyer "Sirocco" intercepted the Adris ship and confiscated its cargo of weapons, including 1,500 AK47 assault rifles, 200 RPG-7 launchers and 21 (50 mm) automatic machine guns.
November 2016: A ship was seized carrying a shipment of weapons in its way to the Houthis
December 12, 2016: Security forces in Marib seized a truck loaded with reconnaissance aircraft on its way to the Houthis in Sana'a
January 2017: A shipment of industrial equipment was seized near Marib, including two tanks for hazardous chemicals used to oxidize Scud missiles fuel and other short-range ballistic missile systems.
January 31, 2017: Seizure of anti-tank guided missiles with characteristics very similar to those of the Iranian-made "Dehlavih" missile, seized by the French naval ship "La Provence" on March 20, 2016.
February 2017: A shipment of industrial mixing equipment was seized in Marib and one of the two storage containers filled with liquid ballistic fuel used in a Scud-B missile. This equipment is used as part of the missile program.
August 2018: A large shipment of assault rifles was seized on a boat bound for the southern coast of Yemen
December 2018: The coalition seized weapons and materials related to weapons in Aden, including 56-1 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPG-7) and associated sighting goggles.
January 2019: A large arms shipment was seized in Al-Jawf that included 3 tons of UAV components and other components for making armed drones of Qasef and Sammad type.
April 2020: The Saudi Navy intercepted a large shipment of small arms and light weapons on a Yemeni dhow about 90 nautical miles from the port of Nishtun.
June 2020: The Saudi Navy intercepted a large shipment of small arms and light weapons on board a (Jalbot ) dhow carrying a Somali crew about 70 nautical miles northeast of Bosaso
June 2019: The Australian Navy seized a dhow in the Gulf of Oman carrying 476,000 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition and 697 bags of chemical fertilizer set sail from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on June 19, 2019 towards Somalia and Yemen
Between November 2019 and June 2020, a total of 191 launch container units with technical characteristics similar to the Cornet 9M133 anti-tank guided missile were seized on board a dhow in the Gulf of Aden.
April-June 2020: A total of 4,300 1-56 assault rifles, 39 * 7.62mm, were seized in two naval seizures.
May 2021: The U.S. Navy seized an arms shipment of thousands of assault weapons, machines guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea, bound for Yemen to support the country’s Houthi rebels.