HOUTHI SHI’ITE rebels in Yemen 370.
(photo credit: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
In a recent interview, a senior Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps officer became the first top official to confirm it is helping Yemen’s Houthi rebels fire rockets at Saudi Arabia’s oil interests, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has reported.
In statements to The Jerusalem Post and its report on Monday and Tuesday, the Meir Amit Center revealed a surprising, and likely accidental, admission by Nasser Shaabani to the Iran state-sponsored Fars media outlet on August 7.
According to the report, Shaabani told Fars that Iran not only supported Yemen’s Houthis with weaponry but gave them directives to attack two Saudi Arabian oil tankers on July 25.
While only one of the ships was minimally damaged, the incident has caused the Saudis to completely reevaluate its oil shipping routes and its vulnerability to rocket attacks in other areas.
While Israel and the West have taken it as conventional wisdom that Iran is supplying the Houthis with rockets to attack the Saudis, the Islamic Republic has been careful to deny all involvement in any public statements.
Public denial of involvement is Iran’s way of avoiding any undesired diplomatic or legal consequences. It is also an opportunity to prop up its narrative that there are revolutionary pro-Iran and anti-Sunni movements erupting spontaneously throughout the Middle East – meaning not as part of an Iranian-directed plot.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are supporting rival warring sides of a Yemen civil war.
The intelligence center quoted Shaabani as telling Fars, “we told the Yemenites to strike the two Saudi oil tankers, and they struck them.”
Shaabani also said in the interview that the Yemen Houthis, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, are part of the long-arm of Iran.
His statements contradicted the official denial of responsibility by top Iranian national security official Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh on July 29, who said Iran was uninvolved and that there was not a single rocket connected to Iran anywhere in the region.
The intelligence center pointed out that Falahatpisheh highlighted merely that the Houthis identify with Iran ideologically and feel unjustifiably persecuted by Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after Shaabani’s statements were posted online and led to a social media backlash, it appears Iran realized the potential damage, and Fars deleted the controversial portion of the interview, said the report.
Further, Fars and the IRGC published clarifications that Shaabani’s quote had been mischaracterized and that he had mostly affirmed that the Houthis had the will and ability to carry out attacks on the Saudis on their own.
Fars said it published a clarification so that anti-revolutionary forces could not try to exploit the story.
The Meir Amit Center added that the IRGC said that Shaabani was no longer even part of it.
But the report then reduced the importance of that IRGC claim, noting that at least until June, Shaabani had served as a senior officer of the IRGC both as deputy commander of its Tehran units and as commander of an IRGC officer training academy.
Asked about how and why the slip in Iran’s script of denial transpired, the Meir Amit report’s lead author, Dr. Raz Zimmt, told the Post
that Shaabani’s statement was likely an unplanned error or at most a personal decision he made.
Zimmt cited the numerous times that the US, the UN and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with rockets to strike the Saudis, and the long line of denials by Tehran as evidence that Iran had no intention of admitting its role in Yemen.
Rather, Zimmt said that it was most likely that Shaabani went off script because his career was dealing with domestic Iranian security. In that case, he was possibly less experienced with media interviews and with emphasizing nuanced messages on global issues following the IRGC’s party line.
Still, the report affirmed that despite Iran’s denials and damage-control attempts, Shaabani’s admission was overwhelmingly likely an accidental confirmation of the truth: that the IRGC’s is deeply involved with supplying and sometimes even giving directives to the Houthis.
This is true even if the Iran-Houthi relationship is not nearly as direct or tight as the decades-long Iran-Hezbollah relationship.
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