U.S. Intelligence: Iran Supplying Houthis with Missiles, Drones

The arms transfers involve drones, ballistic missiles, anti-ship missiles, and cruise missiles, and they go back many years—to 2015.
The cover of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)'s report. (Photo: DIA)
The cover of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)'s report. (Photo: DIA)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has just released a report detailing Iran’s transfer of major weapons systems to the Houthis in Yemen. 

The report, entitled, “Iran: Enabling Houthi Attacks Across the Middle East” was released on Tuesday.

The arms transfers involve drones, ballistic missiles, anti-ship missiles, and cruise missiles, and they go back many years—to 2015.

At that time, Barack Obama was president, and he was courting Iran. Obama thought he was saving the U.S. from another unnecessary war that some wild-eyed Republican administration might launch against the country, just as—in his view—his predecessor, George W. Bush, had launched a costly and unnecessary war against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (there were good reasons for that war, grounded in traditional national security reasons, but Bush and his top advisers actually believed the war would be easy and, so, failed to explain them.)

Read More: Operation Iraqi Freedom: 15 Years On

Thus, in 2015, as Iran began arming the Houthis, Obama was not much focused on that problem. Rather, his priority was reaching a nuclear deal with Tehran. It was formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and it was concluded in July 2015. 

But in the Middle East, the Houthis, armed by Iran, began to use Iranian arms against their rivals in Yemen’s civil war and their main backer, Saudi Arabia. 

As the DIA report suggests, the capabilities that Iran developed in the Yemeni conflict are now being used elsewhere: in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region; in the Red Sea, against international shipping; and by Russia against Ukraine.

Iranian Arms Transfers: Missiles

“Iranian aid has enabled the Houthis to initiate a campaign of missile and UAV attacks against commercial ships in the Red Sea since November 2023,” the DIA report begins. “As of mid-December 2023, several of the largest global shipping firms had suspended transit through the Red Sea.”

Last week, the International Monetary Fund reported that container shipping through the Red Sea had dropped by 30%, as a result of the Houthi attacks.

Read More: Red Sea container shipping down 30 percent over attacks: IMF

The arms transfers from Iran to the Houthis began after they captured the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, in Sept. 2014. The Houthis did not then—nor do they now—control even half the country, but once they captured Sana’a, they claimed to be the legitimate government, while the internationally-recognized government controlled the rest of the country. 

Backed by Iran, the Houthis fought that government, which was backed by Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia. Yemen's civil war has continued for the past ten years.

Thus, as the DIA report explains, “Since at least 2015, Iran has provided the Houthis a diverse arsenal of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, including antiship variants, enabling Houthi attacks against targets on land and sea.”

That includes a medium-range ballistic missile, which Tehran calls the Qaim and which the Houthis calls the Burkan-3. The Houthi missile is really the Qaim, but the Houthis have given it a different name, and they paint it differently, as the DIA report explains.

In 2019, the Houthis first fired their Burkan-3 missile, targeting Saudi Arabia. A year later, the Iranians used their version of the same missile to attack Al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province, as they retaliated for the Jan. 3, 2020, U.S. assassination of Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Read More: US strike kills Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis

Something similar has emerged with the Houthis antiship ballistic missile (ASBM.) The Houthis call their ASBM the Asif, but it closely resembles Iran’s Fateh-110 antiship missile. 

“Since late November,” as the DIA report explains, “the Houthis have launched [those] ASBMs at ships in the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea.”

Indeed, on Tuesday, the Houthis launched six anti-ship missiles at two ships. One was the “MV Star Nasia, a Marshall Island-flagged, Greek owned and-operated bulk carrier transiting the Gulf of Aden,” a CENTCOM statement explained. The ship suffered “minor damage.” 

The second ship targeted by the Houthis was the “MV Morning Tide, a Barbados-flagged, UK-owned cargo ship operating in the Southern Red Sea,” CENTCOM’s statement added. However, that ship was luckier and was not hit.

Weak U.S. Response, Prelude to Tuesday’s Houthi Attacks on Shipping

There is an Iranian ship on station in the area. It is called the Behshad, and it provides the Houthis intelligence with which to target shipping.

On Monday, in a televised briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder was asked whether the U.S. might strike that ship.

Televised briefings by U.S. officials are very high profile. Every government in the world watches them. Ryder’s response, however, was remarkably weak.

‘“I’m not aware of the U.S. targeting the Behshad. We are very well aware of the Behshad,” he replied. “It’s pretty standard for Iran to have a ship in the Red Sea conducting operations.”

He then added, “We are not there to seek confrontation or war with Iran, but if our forces are threatened, we will take appropriate action.”

Ryder said nothing about consequences to Iran for supporting its proxy in attacking commercial shipping—even as protecting that shipping is the key purpose of the U.S. naval mission in the area.

So is it any surprise that just one day later, the Houthis attempted to attack two ships, one of which was actually hit? 

Iranian Arms Transfers: UAVs

From a global perspective, the export of Iranian UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—i.e. drones] is even more significant than Tehran’s export of its missiles. That is because Iran’s UAVs are being used by Russia to attack Ukraine, in addition to their use by Iranian proxies in the Middle East. 

“Since 2017, Iran has proliferated advanced UAVs to global conflict zones,” the DIA report states. “These UAVs combine an extended range, low cost, and explosive payload to allow conflict actors such as the Houthis, other Iran-aligned militias and Russia to threaten territorial sovereignty, regional stability, and the global economy.” 

Iran has transferred several models of its UAVs to both the Houthis and the Russians. One is the Shahed-131, which the Houthis call the Waid 1 and the Russians call the Geran-1. 

Remnants of a Shahed-131 were “recovered after a publicly-claimed Iranian UAV and missile attack against the Kurds in northern Iraq on 28 September 2022,” the DIA report explains. 

The attack followed widespread unrest in Iran, triggered by the death of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, while she was in the custody of Tehran’s “morality police,” after she was arrested for not wearing her head scarf properly. 

Read More: US issues strong warning to Iran against missile, drone attacks on Kurdistan Region

Read More: KRG strongly condemns Iranian attacks on Kurdistan Region

Read More: Kurdistan 24 reporter heavily injured in Iranian missile attacks

The DIA report, in its entirety, conveys the impression that the U.S. has been remiss in not responding more strongly and effectively to Iran’s development and use of weapons like its missiles and UAVs. That was followed, then, by a U.S. failure to address their proliferation and use, first in the Middle East and, later, by their transfer to Russia and their use in its assault on Ukraine.

The entire report can be read here.