A senior official of the Yemeni Houthi rebels has said that the insurgent group is willing to purchase weapons from Iran and Russia if they can deliver the arms to the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, which is currently held by the Houthis. Saleh al-Samad, the head of the Houthis’ political council, which administers Sana’a, made the remarks at a graduation ceremony of new Houthi military leaders. “We’re ready to buy weapons from any country that wants to sell us weapons, be it Russia or Iran,” al-Samad was quoted as saying. The Houthi official however emphasized that it’d be up to any arms dealer to deliver the weapons to Sana’a, circumventing the siege by the Saudi-led coalition. “Any country willing to sell us weapons, we will buy. And if any country gives them to us for free, then may Gold bless them,” he added. Al-Samad said despite financial challenges his group can still afford to purchase weapons from Iran and Russia. 

Comment: Tehran support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen has further strained Tehran’s relations with Riyadh and Washington. Since the war began three years ago, the Houthis have fired about 100 missiles against civilian and military targets inside Saudi Arabia, and the frequency and range of Houthi missiles have notably increased in recent months. Saudi Arabia and its allies blame Tehran for the Houthi attacks, accusing Iran of providing ballistic missiles and other weapons to the Yemeni rebels. While Tehran denies the allegations, UN fact-finding teams and the US military have established connections between Tehran and Houthis’ growing missile capability.

Earlier today, the Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis said the rebels attacked a Saudi oil tanker in the Red Sea, causing a minor damage to the vessel. The coalition spokesperson described it as a “terrorist attack” aimed at disrupting commercial shipping lines in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, and reiterated that Tehran was arming the Yemeni insurgents. 

The increasing Houthi missile attacks have also triggered angry reactions in Washington. When a Houthi ballistic missile targeted the international airport in Riyadh on November 4, both Saudi and American officials said they held Tehran and its allies responsible for the attack. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran’s ally Lebanese Hezbollah of smuggling missile parts into Yemen. According to the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said the “involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the Kingdom.”

In December, US permanent ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, presented “concrete evidence” of Iran’s weapons support to the Yemeni rebels and called for international action to punish Iran for it. She said the debris of the missile used to target the Saudi airport had Iranian marking.

Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, denied any Iranian involvement. But Reuters reported that a team of United Nations sanctions monitors had concluded that remnants of four ballistic missiles launched into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels this year, including residuals from the November 4 attack, appeared to have been designed and produced by Iran. “Design characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile,” the monitors said.