London, Asharq Al-Awsat-An adviser to Yemen’s prime minister accused Iran of interfering in Yemeni politics this week, following the recent seizure of an arms shipment off Yemen’s coast.
Rajih Badi, adviser to the Yemeni prime minister, said in a telephone call with Asharq Al-Awsat in London on Tuesday that “Iranian activity in Yemen has recently increased in a visible manner. Iran cannot deny it.” Badi claimed that Yemen has tried, by using all possible channels, to send messages to the Iranians to stop interfering in Yemeni affairs. He said: “It is extremely regrettable that all the appeals to the Iranians not to interfere in Yemeni affairs and to respect the sovereignty of the country and maintain bilateral relations to serve the security and stability of the region have not resonated with Iranian officials.” Mr. Badi warned that “playing with fire in Yemen by Iran will not only burn the Yemeni body, but many people will suffer from this fire, led by the Iranians themselves, if weapons continue to flow.” He added: “It seems that Iran listens to some misleading reports sent to it by some political sides in Yemen, which give it the idea that Iranian activity in Yemen can succeed. This cannot be the case because Yemen will not be an arena for settling the scores of Iranians on its soil.” According to Yemeni and US officials, Yemeni forces, assisted by the US Navy, intercepted a ship carrying a large shipment of weapons on January 23 2013, which US officials believe were heading from Iran to the Huthis in Yemen. The Yemeni Government said that the weapons included military-grade explosives, missiles, shells, and bomb-making equipment. A Yemeni security source said that the weapons found on the ship also included “shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles, which are used to shoot down military and civilian aircraft”.
A Yemeni official told Asharq Al-Awsat last month that Iran is smuggling weapons and storing them on Eritrean islands and then transporting them by small fishing boats to Yemen’s Red Sea coast, and then north to the strongholds of the Huthis in Sa’dah. This followed statements by Yemeni political and diplomatic sources to Asharq Al-Awsat to the effect that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is training Huthis fighters on Eritrean islands. The Yemeni border guard force captured large quantities of weapons late last December, which Sanaa said came from Iran on-board a ship that was seized near Midi Island in the Red Sea. The ship was carrying by coal as camouflage.
These developments follow a series of incidents that have raised tensions between Tehran and Sanaa. A few weeks ago, a special penal court in the Yemeni capital rejected an appeal by the Iranian Embassy against the initial prison sentence passed in the case of an Iranian ship allegedly laden with weapons. The ship was seized near Marin Island off the coast of the Yemeni city of Midi on the Red Sea at the end of October 2009. Following the trial, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbuh Mansur Hadi issued a statement about uncovering Iranian spy cells, and claimed Iran was shipping weapons to the Huthis and pro-secession factions. Hadi subsequently declined a meeting that Iranian diplomats tried to arrange between him and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the meetings of the UN General Assembly in New York last December.
Iran denies sending weapons to the Huthis or separatists in Yemen and asserts that Yemen’s accusations are simply unfounded political propaganda. The latest Iranian statement in this connection was what the ambassador of Tehran in Sanaa, Mahmoud Hassan Zada, who said last month that Iran does not spy on Yemen and does not send weapons to it.