UN report on Iranian missiles in Yemen used against Saudi: Key takeaways explained

Published: Updated:

A new UN report endorses long-standing claims that weapons “of Iranian origin” were used in several attacks against Saudi Arabia last year and have been exported to the Houthis in Yemen.

The report provides evidence for US officials in their case to extend the arms embargo on Iran and further calls into question Tehran’s public commitments to dialogue and the nuclear deal.

Authored by the UN’s chief, Secretary-General António Guterres, it examines the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 – the resolution by which the UN endorsed the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.

Read more:

Exclusive: Shipment of Iranian weapons, Farsi material intercepted en route to Yemen

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia reacts to new ‘reprehensible’ Iran missile revelations

Exclusive: Saudi Arabia to reveal new Iranian missile cargo today, 3:30 p.m. Riyadh

Limited information from the report was leaked on June 11, including the key finding that missiles launched against Saudi Arabia in recent attacks were “of Iranian origin.”

Now, Al Arabiya English has obtained the full report, along with a range of photographic and video evidence of Iranian missiles and arms shipments, including exclusive images of Iranian weapons found from a previously undisclosed raid on a dhow in April, 2020, and footage showing a new angle of the attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport in 2019.

With the UN Security Council set to discuss extending the arms embargo on Iran past October, the report is “significant in its content and timing” and will strengthen the US case for extending the embargo, according to Jason Brodsky, the policy director at United Against a Nuclear Iran.

Saudi Arabia has also welcomed the report, saying that it confirmed Iran’s well-known destabilizing regional behavior.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has consistently warned of the security consequences of arms agreements that overlook Iran’s regional expansion and ignore the legitimate security concerns of regional states. Today, we are glad that international partners are acknowledging these issues. It might have taken some time, but better late than never,” Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN Ambassador Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi told Al Arabiya English.

Here is all you need to know about the new report and its evidence.

Key takeaways

1) Missiles and drones used in attacks against Saudi Arabia were “of Iranian origin.”

Secretary-General Guterres said the UN examined debris of weapons used in attacks on a Saudi oil facility in Afif in May, on the Abha international airport in June and August and on the Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq in September.

“The Secretariat assesses that the cruise missiles and/or parts thereof used in the four attacks are of Iranian origin,” said Guterres. The drones used in the May and September attacks were also “of Iranian origin,” he said.

While Saudi Arabia, the US and other investigators had reached this conclusion previously, it is the first time the UN secretary-general has explicitly confirmed their findings.

“There was always a very strong suspicion that the cruise missiles used were Iranian. Initially the UN said that it acknowledged the US and the Saudi findings, but couldn’t endorse their findings until they’d examined the evidence. Now it looks like they’ve come to the same conclusion,” said Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

2) Iranian arms “may have been transferred in a manner inconsistent” with UN resolution 2231 and the JCPOA.

The US seized two hauls of arms and related materials in the Arabian Sea, believed to be headed for Yemen, in November 2019 and February 2020.

The UN found these shipments to contain the following material:

a) Container launch units of anti-tank missiles “of Iranian origin,”

b) Fifteen POS-type optical weapon sights that were delivered to Iran between February 2016 and April 2018,

c) Thermal optical weapon sights that had “design characteristics similar ... to those also produced by a commercial entity in Iran,”

d) A keyboard of a computer terminal associated with the anti-ship missile, a relay box tester of an unidentified missile, and a navigation antenna and module of the cruise missile, all of which had Farsi markings on them.

According to Guterres, “these items may have been transferred in a manner inconsistent” with UN resolution 2231.

3) Despite these findings, the UN still sees the JCPOA as the best way to ensure Iran does not develop a non-peaceful nuclear weapon.

Secretary-General Guterres reiterated the UN’s support for the nuclear deal.

“I regret the May 2018 withdrawal of the United States from the Plan, as well as the steps taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran since 2019 to cease performing its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” wrote Guterres.

Guterres also acknowledged the concerns raised by the UK, France, and Germany and their call for Iran to reverse its violations of the deal.

“I appeal again to the Islamic Republic to return to full implementation of the Plan. I also urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to carefully take into account and urgently address the other concerns raised by other participants,” he said.

Guterres also said that it is “vital” that the procurement channel for nuclear-related provisions continue to operate.

Video and photographic evidence of Iranian missiles and weapons

The UN report examined several pieces of evidence.

The first were two caches of arms and related material seized by US raids on ships in the Arabian Sea in November, 2019, and February, 2020.

November 25, 2019, dhow seizure

“On November 25, a US warship conducted a flag verification boarding in the Arabian sea in accordance with international law of what was subsequently determined to be a stateless vessel, and discovered a cache of weapons and advanced missile components,” said Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Sean Robertson in a statement at the time. “An initial investigation indicates that these advanced missile components are of Iranian origin. A more thorough investigation is underway.”

February 9, 2020, dhow seizure

Additional evidence seen by Al Arabiya English

On top of the evidence surveyed by the UN, Al Arabiya English has obtained a range of photographic and video evidence of Iranian missiles and arms shipments collected by the Arab Coalition.

For a full analysis of the new material, click here.

This material comes from a previously undisclosed raid on a dhow on April 17, 2020, revealing caches of weapons and arms bound for Yemen for the first time.

The material obtained by Al Arabiya English also includes missile parts and debris from a range of attacks against Saudi Arabia, as well as exclusive footage showing new angles of the attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport in 2019.

Images also showed material from a range of Iranian attacks on display by the Arab Coalition.

One showed a blue missile used in the attacks against the Saudi Aramco facilities in September, 2019.

Implications for the nuclear deal

Guterres’ suggestion that the transfer of Iranian arms to Yemen may be “inconsistent” with UN resolution 2231 and the JCPOA could have implications for negotiations on the future of the deal, or any replacement deals.

While Iran has already violated several elements of the JCPOA following the US withdrawal from the deal, experts said that this UN report will weaken Iran’s overall case as a credible partner.

“Fundamentally, I think the issue is above all bad PR for the Islamic Republic,” said Alex Vatanka, senior fellow and director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

“The fact that this is the UN providing this report makes Iranian denials that much harder to be credible,” he said.

However, Vatanka pointed out that Russia and China are still committed to using their veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Iran at the UN level. Unless Moscow and Beijing shift their position, the growing international consensus that Iran has been committing malpractice won’t result in meaningful change within the UN Security Council.

Other experts pointed to the “sunset provisions” of UN resolution 2231, under which the current arms embargo expires in October.

Read more: A new Iran nuclear deal? Not so fast

Implications for the arms embargo

The UN report has been seen as bolstering the case for extending the arms embargo on Iran, which is currently set to expire in October, 18, 2020.

On Tuesday, the US said it has shared a draft resolution with members of the UN Security Council that would extend an arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, according to diplomats.

The resolution cites the conclusions of this UN report regarding the attacks on Saudi Arabia, and expresses “grave concern about the risk that these attacks posed to global energy supplies, to freedom of navigation in the region, to the safety of persons working in the energy and maritime transportation sectors and to the environment.”

“Such attacks and continued proliferation of arms and related material by Iran constitute a threat to international peace and security,” adds the resolution.

According to Jason Brodsky, the report “will add to the US case for extension of the arms embargo, which is set to expire on October 18, 2020. In fact, there is evidence Tehran is expanding its weapons shipments, with Iranian anti-tank guided missiles being found in Libya.”

“The sunset provisions in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 should have never been agreed to in the first place, as Iran never made a reciprocal and binding commitment to change its malign regional posture,” he added.

However, both China and Russia have suggested they will oppose the extension of the embargo.

Read more: World will understand need to extend Iran arms embargo: Mike Pompeo

UN Security Council vote on Iran approaches

The Security Council began negotiations on the resolution on Wednesday, diplomats said.

If the council votes not to extend the embargo, Washington has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under the nuclear deal.

On the other hand, Iranian officials have recently threatened to rip up the nuclear deal and continue regional destabilization if the arms embargo is extended.

According to missile expert Douglas Barrie, the expiration of the arms embargo would allow Iran to access external sources of technology to significantly enhance their existing capabilities.

“The attacks on the Aramco facilities, from an Iranian perspective, were successful. They did the job. The Iranians aren’t going to stop with the technology that they’ve got now... The arms embargo is meant to end this year. Assuming it does, that will give the Iranians access to potentially external sources of tech that they can marry with their own internal capabilities to further develop what they’ve got,” he said.

Read more: Iran says extending UN Security Council arms embargo is a ‘red line’

With Bloomberg.