Iran Seeks to Deploy Special Forces to Yemen
Image Credit: flickr/IRIN Photos

Iran Seeks to Deploy Special Forces to Yemen


Iran is seeking to deploy Iranian Special Forces in Yemen to protect its diplomats in the country, BBC Monitoring is reporting, citing a July 25 report in Baraqish, which it characterizes as a privately-owned Yemen newspaper (presumably located in the northwestern Yemen city of the same name).

According to the BBC Monitoring report, diplomatic sources (presumably from Yemen) told Baraqish that Murteza Abedi, Iran’s charge d'affaires in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, asked Yemen’s Foreign Ministry to allow it to recruit Iranian Special Forces to protect its diplomats inside the country.

The Diplomat could not independently verify the report, which doesn’t appear to have been reported by other media outlets.

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If accurate, the request came days after an administrative staff member at Iran’s embassy in Sana’a was kidnapped by armed gunmen in the Hadda neighborhood in the southwestern part of the city, near where the Iranian embassy is located.

According to Global Post, it was the first time that an Iranian had been kidnaped in Yemen, although foreigners are often kidnapped in the country by groups seeking to use them as bargaining chips with the Yemeni government.

On Friday, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said Iran would soon send a team into Yemen to investigate the kidnapping of the staff member, whose name is Nour Ahmad Nikbakht. Similar to earlier protests by Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Amir-Abdollahian slammed Yemen for failing to protect the Iranian embassy employee, which Salehi previously underscored is the responsibility of the host nation, according to international law.

A photo appearing on Press TV, Iran’s English-language news outlet purportedly showed a Yemen solider standing guard outside Iran’s embassy in Sana’a, although no date was given for when the photo was taken.

The BBC Monitoring report said that in making the request for Iranian Special Forces to be allowed to protect its diplomats in the country, Abedi had cited Yemen’s willingness to allow U.S. Marines to protect American diplomats as precedent.

The request, if accurate, is unlikely to be granted. Yemen and Iran have clashed over Tehran’s widely suspected support for separatist movements in the southern part of Yemen, as well as for the Houthi movement in the northern part of the country.

Iran’s alleged support for the northern-based Houthi movement is said to date back some time but has reportedly intensified greatly in recent years. The Houthis are Zayid Shi’a, the second largest Shi’a sect, which differs on significant and fundamental points from Twelver Shi’ism, the largest branch of the religion and the one most Iranians practice.

Since about 2004, the Houthis have alternated between being a legitimate political faction and being an armed insurgency fighting the government. Notably, they are located directly across the border from Saudi Arabia, prompting concern that Iran is seeking to establish a foothold alongside its regional rival by supporting the Houthis.

Despite frequent accusations that Iran is supporting the Houthis from the Saudi press and Yemen officials, it has long been disputed whether Iran is actually active in supporting the Houthis and, if so, to what extent. That being said, American intelligence officials that long dismissed the Saudi and Yemeni accusations now say that Iran does provide support for the group, according to the New York Times.

For years north and south Yemen were separate countries but they unified in 1990. Lingering hostilities have continued to simmer, however, and provoked a two-month civil war back in 1994.

In the south Iran is said to be working with Hiraaki [Southern Separatist Movement], one of the more outspoken proponents of southern secession from the Republic of Yemen.

For years north and south Yemen were separate countries but they united in 1990. Still, hostilities have continued to linger and provoked a two-month civil war back in 1994. They have intensified in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Hiraaki’s powerbase is near the Bab-al Mandab strait, a strategic chokepoint in the Persian Gulf, prompting fears that Iran hopes to use support for Hiraaki— which is a Sunni group— to gain control over Bab-al Mandab.

A June report in the Wall Street Journal quoted Qassem Askar, Hiraaki's secretary-general, as saying the group had been fracturing as of late, and that various elements deciding to seek arms and military and media training from Iran and Hezbollah, although he said senior Hiraaki officials demanded they stop doing so.

In January, Yemen’s Coast Guard intercepted a ship carrying sophisticated weapons on board, including 122 mm Katyusha rockets, anti-aircraft Strella 1 and 2 missiles (Manpads), Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers, materials to make explosives and night vision goggles. Yemen officials, all the way up to the president, said the weapons had originated from Iran and accused the government in Tehran of trying to arm the Houthis and Hiraaki groups. Iran denied any involvement in the shipment. 

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