Providing what she said is evidence of Iran’s interference in Yemen’s civil war, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Thursday showed reporters pieces of weapons she said were Iranian-made and supplied to Houthi rebels fighting the government in Yemen.
Haley presented what Reuters described as “charred remnants” of a short-range ballistic missile, which she said was intercepted outside Riyadh on November 4. Speaking at the Bolling Air Force base just outside Washington, she also highlighted a Pentagon display that included a drone and anti-tank weapons, which she said were recovered by Saudis in Yemen, though she didn’t specify when. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes on Yemen since October of 2015.
She presented the weapons as evidence that Iran is helping destabilize other parts of the Middle East, but a new U.N. report stopped short of that conclusion, saying only that two missiles fired by Houthis — one on November 4 and one on July 22 — seem to have “a common origin.”
U.N. officials are still investigating who made the missiles, but for reasons that were not made clear, Haley is nonetheless claiming certainty that they are Iranian-made.
“These are Iranian made, these are Iranian sent, and these were Iranian given,” Haley said. “You will see us build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing.”
But what Iran is or is not doing is so far unclear.
Iran, for its part, has denied supplying the Houthi rebels with weapons, and experts interviewed by ThinkProgress have also expressed doubt about the extent of Iran’s support of the Shia rebels, saying that Saudi Arabia is ostensibly fabricating these charges as an excuse to push on and invade Yemen.
Iran is Saudi Arabia’s chief rival in the region and the kingdom’s quest for besting Iran has been the driver for several recent moves, including the announcement of the formation of a new Gulf Arab council.
Although the United States has Saudi Arabia’s enthusiastic backing in the claims against Iran, it has yet to determine when the weapons were sold or transported to Yemen. And there has been no independent verification of where the weapons were actually made or used.
While Iran’s role in Yemen is yet to be determined, the U.S.-Saudi strategy on Iran is clear. Saudi Arabia views Iran’s growing reach into the Arab world — in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and perhaps even Qatar — as a threat. It has enjoyed U.S. support in its blockade against Qatar as well as benefiting from U.S. weapons and logistics in its airstrikes in Yemen.
The administration of President Donald Trump has also been looking for ways to limit Iran’s reach, starting with trying to undo the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump decertified in October, leaving the door open for Congress to snap back the sanctions relief granted by the deal. Congress had a 60-day window to do so, but the deadline for taking action passed on Wednesday without action.
An alternative draft resolution spearheaded by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bob Corker (R-TN) has also stalled as its terms would be in violation of the JCPOA. Cotton is a proponent of a military strike against Iran, while Corker hoped European partners to the deal — the United Kingdom, France and Germany — would support the United States in imposing new sanctions on Iran. They did not. Nor have China and Russia, the other permanent U.N. Security Council members who signed on to the deal.
Calling the JCPOA “the worst deal ever,” Trump has been calling for it to be renegotiated, something Iran has said is a non-starter. Despite the president’s many claims that Iran has violated the “spirit” of the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the nuclear watchdog tasked with ensuring that Iran complies — has found no evidence of such violations.