Middle East and Russian sources have confirmed that an Iranian ship has unloaded 185 tons of weapons at Yemen’s Port Saleef to the Houthis, Iran’s Shiite proxies in Yemen. Port Saleef connects directly with the capital, Sanaa, and is only about 500 miles – or 800 kilometers – south of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, which is currently under the control of Saudi Arabia.
Prior to the offloading, the Houthis – who are in military control of Sanaa and the entire north of Yemen – reportedly closed Port Saleef to the public and denied the regular employees access so as to allow the Iranian ship to transfer the huge amount of weapons onshore.
For many years, the Iranians have been arming the Houthis against the Sunni-led Yemeni government, which controlled most of Yemen until recently. Last September, the Houthis took over Sanaa, situated on a critical crossroad in the country’s mountainous north-west. This February, Houthi rebels seized power completely and decreed that a transitional five-member presidential council would replace the Sunni president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The UN Security Council has denounced the Houthis’ move and demanded that they negotiate power-sharing agreement under the aegis of the Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Council. However, after receiving the massive resupply of Iranian weapons in open daylight, it is doubtful the Houthis will negotiate anything with the Sunnis.
It is also unclear whether the Houthis will use the massive influx of weapons to move against the Sunni-majority south, and consolidate their hold in Yemen, or move north against Saudi Arabia.
With full Houthi/Iranian control over the mountainous north of Yemen, they are in a strategically favorable position to strike north to the holy city of Mecca along the eastern side of the Saudi Asir Mountain range that runs parallel to the Saudi Red Sea coast.
In November 2009, the Houthis went on the offensive against Saudi Arabia, crossed the border, and attacked numerous Saudi positions. After a brief series of battles, the Saudis regained their land.