Iran Sent Yemen's Houthi Rebels 'Suicide Drones' That Can Reach Israel, Report Says

Tehran hopes to hit Israeli, American or Saudi targets, but have Yemen take the blame, says Mideast expert

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A drone is launched during a large-scale drone combat exercise of Iran's army, Semnan, Iran, January 6, 2021.
A drone is launched during a large-scale drone combat exercise of Iran's army, Semnan, Iran, January 6, 2021.Credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY / REUTERS

Iran has apparently sent its Houthi allies in Yemen "suicide drones" capable of reaching Israel or striking other U.S., Saudi or Gulf targets within a 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) range, Newsweek reported on Thursday.

Photographs obtained by the magazine and confirmed by an expert show the presence of Iranian Shahed-136 loitering munitions, known as "suicide drones," deployed to the northern Yemeni province of Al-Jawf, which is controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

"The Iranians have delivered to their Houthi proxies in Yemen advanced UAVs," the expert, who monitors Iranian activity in the region, told Newsweek, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They are forward deploying or prepositioning these drones in order to stage an attack against a variety of targets they have within range."

The drones are believed to have an effective range of 2,000 to 2,200 kilometers (1,240 to 1,370 miles), putting the Red Sea –  a vital shipping route for oil transit that links the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean – within striking distance.

Iran is suspected of being behind several acts of sabotage along the sea in the last year and a half, including strikes by Houthi rebels on key Saudi oil installations and attacks on Saudi tankers in 2019.

The expert said that the Iranians are hoping to be able to deny responsibility for a drone strike in the region by having it traced back to Yemen rather than Tehran.

Tension has mounted in the region, with Israel recently moving Iron Dome and Patriot missile defense batteries to the Red Sea resort city of Eilat and an announcement by Iran's top general, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, Wednesday that the country would send warships to patrol the Red Sea. In December an American nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine traversed the waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.

Last week, Haaretz's Amos Harel reported that the Israel Defense Forces, for their part, is alert to threats from Syria and Lebanon in the north, Iraq in the east and Yemen in the south.

Israel deployed an aerial defense battery of Patriot missiles in Eilat, and an exceptionally large presence of fighter planes has been seen in the sky over the country, in all sectors and for a considerable portion of the day.

Latest breach of nuclear accord

Meanwhile, in its latest breach of a 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has begun research on uranium metal-based fuel for its research reactor in Tehran, its envoy to International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday. The deal with six world powers – which the Trump administration pulled out of in 2018 – prohibits conducting research on uranium, which can potentially be used in nuclear weapons.

In December, the Iranian parliament passed a law calling for the government to toughen its nuclear stance, including inaugurating a metallic uranium factory at its Isfahan nuclear research facility within five months. Earlier this month, Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent strength at its underground Fordow nuclear plant. The latest moves are expected to make it more difficult for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to renegotiate the pact. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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