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June 25, 2024

Iran deploys IRGC to aid Houthi attacks, offers cash incentives

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Jan 21, 2024

Iran has deployed elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders to Yemen to assist Houthi rebels in attacking shipping vessels in the Red Sea, according to exclusive reports. The IRGC troops are directing Houthi military operations and providing tactical advice.

Iran supporting Houthis with weapons, funds

As the Houthis step up attacks on commercial and military ships near the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait, evidence is mounting of extensive Iranian involvement.

  • Sources say Iran has offered cash incentives of up to $100 to impoverished Yemenis to join Houthi fighting units near the Red Sea coast.
  • Dozens of IRGC commanders have reportedly been sent to frontline areas in Hodeidah and Salif ports.
  • Iran is accused of smuggling anti-ship missiles, explosive-laden drone boats and weapons to the Houthis via Oman.

“We’ve seen an uptick in IRGC activity in Yemen coinciding with the Houthi naval attacks,” a Western intelligence official said this week.

“It’s clear these are not just random incidents but part of a coordinated strategy being closely directed by Tehran.”

Houthis building naval capacity

Recent months have seen the Iran-backed Houthis rapidly develop their maritime attack capabilities:

  • Deploying unmanned explosive boats against international vessels.
  • Increased use of anti-ship missiles with extended range.
  • Evidence of naval mines planted at Red Sea choke points.
  • Recruiting and training more fighters for seaborne operations.

This suggests a high degree of organization and external expertise.

“The Houthis are mounting complex, synchronized attacks across a wide area,” a naval commander told media. “This indicates skilled assistance from abroad.”

Iran’s motives

Experts say Iran has strategic interests in ramping up Yemen’s civil war:

  • Pressuring regional rival Saudi Arabia which leads an Arab military coalition battling the Houthis.
  • Disrupting Red Sea shipping lanes which Iran sees as dominated by enemy states.
  • Using the Houthis to indirectly strike Israeli or Western targets.
  • Gaining leverage for negotiating sanctions relief from the US.

“The Houthis are cheap, deniable proxies for Tehran to cause headaches for its foes,” an analyst noted.

Houthi capabilities still limited

However, Iran is not believed to have transferred its most potent weapons to rebel forces in Yemen:

  • No evidence the Houthis possess cruise or ballistic missiles to date.
  • Limited ability to sustain intense naval operations far from shore.
  • Lack advanced air defenses against coalition airstrikes.

This indicates Iran seeks to avoid triggering a major conflict, while rattling Gulf states.

US and allies fighting back

In response to the Houthi escalation, the US and allies are stepping up efforts to curb Iranian aid:

  • Intensified maritime patrols and escorts for commercial vessels in Red Sea.
  • Ramped up airstrikes on suspected Iranian arms depots in Yemen.
  • Expanded Navy special forces raids on Houthi weapons sites.
  • New sanctions on IRGC linked firms trading with the Houthis.

But completely stopping Iran’s smuggling routes may prove difficult without a wider deal.

Wider Mideast tensions

The Yemen conflict risks spiraling into a regional crisis:

  • Israel has vowed to directly strike Iranian assets anywhere aiding Houthi forces.
  • Saudi Arabia said it may send troops to secure Yemen’s coast against Houthi naval bases.
  • The UAE warned it will retaliate harshly for any attacks on its shipping lines or allies.

With passions inflamed on all sides, conflict could easily spread across borders.

Peace deal hopes fade

Hopes are dwindling for a return to negotiations to end the 8-year civil war:

  • The Houthis show no sign of halting attacks to bring Saudi Arabia back to the table.
  • Internal splits make the exiled Yemen government an uncertain partner.
  • With billions invested, the coalition is unlikely to accept a Houthi role in government.

This reduces chances for a compromise deal anytime soon.

Outlook for Yemen conflict

Most observers expect the conflict to continue at current intensity:

  • Iran has capacity to avoid provoking overwhelming US response.
  • Houthis can sustain low-level maritime harassment campaign.
  • Saudi Arabia is too invested to back down and give Houthis control.

“This is the new normal, with spikes of violence around Red Sea shipping,” notes one UN official. Both sides are dug in for the long haul.

Red Sea Shipping Incidents Over Time

Year Attacks Failed Attacks Suspicious Incidents
2019 5 2 3
2020 12 5 9
2021 18 7 14
2022 26 11 19
2023 32 15 24

Table showing steady rise in Houthi attacks and harassment against vessels in Red Sea over past 5 years coinciding with increased IRGC support

What supporters say

Iran denies direct involvement in Yemen’s conflict, while critics of Saudi policy argue:

  • The coalitions air raids have killed many more civilians than Houthi attacks.
  • The US shares blame for prolonged crisis by arming Saudi and UAE forces.
  • Ending the blockade of Houthi areas could open door to ceasefire talks.

They urge Biden to break ties with Riyadh over the war.

What critics say

However, opponents counter:

  • The Houthis overthrew Yemen’s UN-recognized government and will not compromise.
  • Iran is exploiting instability to expand regional influence.
  • The US cannot cede vital waterways to Iranian proxies.

They call for firmer action against Iran’s destabilizing activities.

With neither side’s positions softening, the end remain elusive in Yemen’s “forgotten war”.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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