Iran’s use of Hezbollah Unit 3800 to create a new Hezbollah in Yemen

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
10 min read

Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen has been a long one, as far back as September 11, 2009, former Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salah had appeared on Al-Jazeera TV, accusing Iran of supporting the Houthi rebels with weapons and money.

Then on January 23, 2013, with President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in power, the Yemeni coast guard and security services intercepted the Jihan 1, a ship that was enroute to Yemen from Iran, onboard was 40 tons of weapons, many of them manufactured in Iran.

Included in the haul was large quantities of high explosives (RDX and C4), electronic equipment for detonating IEDs, 122mm Katyusha rockets, shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS), and RPGs and RPG launchers. There was also various other equipment, such as Iranian-manufactured night-vision goggles, suppressors for automatic weapons, and ground and naval target-identifying systems, all perfect tools to support guerrilla warfare.

ALSO READ: ‘Exporting Iran’s Revolution’: A pleasant euphemism for regional chaos

But it wasn’t until mid-2014, when a group of Hezbollah operatives were arrested in Yemen, held on charges of training Houthi rebels, the full extent of Iran’s involvement in Yemen became fully apparent.

The men arrested were connected to Hezbollah’s Unit 3800, a militia modelled on the Iranian Quds Force, whose operatives are highly educated, with most able to speak in the native tongue of those they are training, and just like their Quds Force counterparts, are sworn to uphold the Iranian regime’s quest to spread its revolution to foreign lands.

With Hezbollah being an Iranian proxy that receives a vast amount of financial support from Tehran, it is not only financed, armed and trained by the Iranian regime, but it also shares the same ideology espoused by the Iranian regime’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, and since his death, has sworn full allegiance to Iran’s present Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

So, with Hezbollah intrinsically linked to Iran’s quest for regional domination, it comes as no surprise that the Lebanese militia is now giving extensive support to the Yemeni Shiite opposition terror group the Houthis, in their pursuit to bring down Yemen’s anti-Iranian President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, in a bid to install a regime loyal to Iran.

As far as the Iranian regime is concerned, a foothold in Yemen would serve it well, as not only would it enable the regime access to the Red Sea, it would also allow it to create a land-based military presence, which would allow it to harass Saudi Arabia in the way it has been doing in recent years, through using its proxy force the Houthis to cause as much disruption to the Kingdom as possible, through border incursions, and the firing of ballistic missiles deep into its territory.

Also, if Iran was to have some form of full-scale military presence in Yemen, in the form of a Yemeni Hezbollah loyal to Tehran, backed up by a contingent of its own Qods Force personnel, Iran would be able to control the supply of goods and weapons to the area.

Because with any shipping travelling from the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea, having to navigate the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which is located along the coastline of Eritrea and Djibouti on one side and Yemen on the other, all vessels have to pass through the Strait, making them vulnerable to Houthi attack.

As demonstrated in its harassment of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran/Iraq War, a time when Iran’s use of asymmetric naval warfare was used to routinely harass merchant ships and other seaborne vessels, through the use of smaller attack vessels, one of which eventually led to the holing an American frigate, such tactics could be brought to the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb.

ANALYSIS: Iran and Syria as parts of the same problem

As well as their ability to mine the waterways, the Iranians have gone on to develop asymmetric naval warfare to such a chilling degree, it now has fleets of Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC) and specially adapted fast attack speedboats equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, moored along its coast with a strategy of overwhelming US warships using swarm tactics, and quite easily, these tactics could be brought to the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb.

With the Houthis main enclave being the city of Sa’dah in Northern Yemen, which straddles the Saudi border, it couldn’t have been a better area for Iran to choose to cause mischief, in their bid to strike out at their long-time enemy Saudi Arabia. Over time, this military adventure is certain to turn into a similar scenario being acted out by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

With Hezbollah being expert at fighting border wars, having honed its strategy to perfection during the 2006 Lebanon War, through conducting a campaign of cross-border raids into Israel, should Iranian forces be allowed to become firmly entrenched in Yemen, its Quds Force will ship enough weapons into Yemen to set up a similar campaign.

As far as the Iranians are concerned, it matters not what religion any of their proxies are, as long as the group they have chosen to arm and train will further their hegemonic aims in the region, they will work alongside them.

Once dialogue between the Houthis and Hezbollah was established, with a vast amount of Iranian weapons on offer, plus logistical aid, the Houthis soon came on board as a willing proxy, and through its extensive support to the group, the Iranian regime has found their Yemeni proxy force easy to manipulate.

Wanting to gain full control of Yemen, the Iranian regime soon had the Houthis doing their bidding, and in a continued campaign of harassment against the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and that of the Saudi government through attacks along its border, they stepped up momentum in their goal to control Yemen.

Houthis hold a poster of Hassan Nasrallah to show their support to Hezbollah in Sanaa on March 3, 2016. (AP)
Houthis hold a poster of Hassan Nasrallah to show their support to Hezbollah in Sanaa on March 3, 2016. (AP)

Flow of weapons

As far as weapons are concerned, the flow has been non-stop. In September 2016, the Houthi regime unveiled a new ballistic missile, which they claimed was an indigenously made missile, they had dubbed the Burkan-2H, a single-stage solid-fuel SRBM, with the ability to carry a 700 kg warhead, with a range of 800 kilometres.

In September 2016, a Burkan-2H is said to have been launched from Yemen’s north-western Sa’ada province at Saudi’s summer capital Taif, and at Jeddah, the Kingdom’s largest port. Then the following month, what is believed to have been a similar missile was fired at the holy city of Mecca, and like the others, it was intercepted and destroyed by Saudi forces before reaching its target.

Then on November 4, 2017, Houthi rebels launched a missile strike at Riyadh, targeting King Khalid International Airport, with the missile used once again claimed by the Houthis to have been a Burkan missile. But experts begged to differ as to its so-called indigenous pedigree, as examining all data known of this missile, it was deduced that in fact the Burkan was based on the Iranian Qiam ballistic missile.

ALSO READ: Will IRGC-established militia in Syria sabotage de-escalation agreement?

The missiles used in these attacks, were believed to have been smuggled into Yemen in parts, and on arrival, operatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah had reassembled them, in readiness to launch at Saudi targets. More proof came to light November 7, 2017, when US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, specifically referenced a missile fired by the Houthis in July of the same year to have contained Iranian markings, which were also found on missiles fired in the November attacks.

Then once again, on December 19, the Yemeni rebel group targeted the Al-Yamamah Palace in the Saudi capital, and just like the others, the missile was unsuccessful in reaching its target, after being intercepted and shot down by air defences operated by the Royal Saudi Air Defence Forces.

It was in 2003, when Iran’s leadership was beginning to feel paranoid by the massive number of US led multinational forces encamped in Iraq along its border, it needed to find a way to rapidly increase the body count within US ranks, and in order to attain this, after consultations with Hezbollah, and the aid of the Quds Force, Unit 3800 was created.

Through its creation, they hoped to bring about a bloody insurgency war, which would cause a backlash in America to the Iraq conflict, causing great unease in other nations deploying troops, which would then lead to a speedier withdrawal, leaving Iraq ripe for an Iranian takeover.

Unit 3800 then went on to train members of the Mahdi Army, an extremist group led by firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, as well as other “Special Groups”, to enable it to foment conflict and anarchy in Iraq, through the use of urban warfare, terror attacks, ambushes with the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), kidnappings, and small unit tactical operations, all conducted against US and Coalition forces.

These tactics also went on to cause mayhem among the Sunni population, and resulted in an assassination campaign against prominent figures connected to Saddam Hussein’s defunct Baath Party.

Top Content Trending