According to Western security officials, the high level meetings between senior members of the Houthi terrorist organisation and Iran illustrate the close coordination that is taking place between Iran and the Houthis over the rebel group's terrorist operations. Pictured: Iranian Type 358 surface-to-air missiles that were seized by the US Navy in the Arabian Sea on February 9, 2020, as they were en route from Iran to the Houthis in Yemen. (Image source: US Navy via US Department of Justice)
New evidence revealing how Houthi rebels in Yemen cooperate with their main backers in Iran has shed fresh light on how Tehran is actively directing their terrorist activities.
Iran's links with the Yemeni-based terrorist group have been under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks after the Houthis launched a series of unprovoked attacks against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month, killing three civilians and injuring six more.
Security experts in the region have claimed that the Houthis used Iranian-made missiles to carry out last month's attacks, which targeted Abu Dhabi International Airport, as well as a major oil facility.
Now fresh evidence has emerged detailing how senior Houthi officials visited Iran shortly before the attacks took place, suggesting that Iran had a key role in helping to plan and carry out the attacks.
According to new intelligence acquired by Western security officials, and shared with the author, a senior Houthi official visited Tehran shortly before the attacks on the UAE took place.
The Houthi official, who has close links with the leaders of the organisation's terrorist operations, met with a number of senior Iranian regime officials, including Iran's recently appointed President Ebrahim Raisi, as well as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani. The Houthi official also had meetings with senior IRGC and Qods Force officials.
Earlier in the same month. the same Houthi officials met with Iran's foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in the Gulf state of Oman, where they are understood to have discussed the possibility of carrying out attacks against UAE targets.
According to Western security officials, the high level meetings between senior members of the Houthi terrorist organisation and Iran illustrate the close coordination that is taking place between Iran and the Houthis over the rebel group's terrorist operations.
"There has been mounting evidence of deepening cooperation between Iran and the Houthis, especially in terms of Iran supplying the Houthis with sophisticated weapons, such as missiles and drones," a senior Western security official told the author. "The meetings that took place in January prior to the attacks on the UAE suggest the cooperation between Iran and the Houthis has increased dramatically."
Evidence that Iran is training and arming the Houthis, which have been designated a terrorist organisation by many countries, has been growing after Gulf security forces, backed by the US, intercepted a number of Iranian boats attempting to smuggle Iranian-made weapons to the Houthis.
Now details have emerged indicating that the weapons used in the UAE attacks were Iranian-made. They include the Iranian-made 351 cruise missile, which has an estimated range of 1,000 km (600 miles), and was previously used in the Houthis' large-scale attack on the Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
In November 2019, the U.S. seized a ship attempting to smuggle weapons from Iran to Yemen, including missiles produced in Iran meant for the Houthi rebels.
The mounting evidence of Iran's role in directing the Houthis terrorist operations against key US allies like the UAE raises fresh questions about the Biden administration's apparent obsession with reviving the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. Many key Gulf allies, such as the UAE, are questioning why Washington is so intent on cosying up to the ayatollahs in Tehran instead of focusing on protecting the interests of their long-term allies in the Middle East, and would like to see Washington adopt a far more rigorous approach to its dealings with Tehran.
The new material highlighting Tehran's intricate involvement with the Houthis will also add renewed pressure on Washington to increase its military support for its key allies in the Gulf region to protect them from the increasing threat from Tehran and its allies. At the very least, the Biden administration needs to concentrate its energies on both confronting the Houthis' terrorist network, as well as providing its Gulf allies with the protection they need to defend themselves against further attacks by the Iranian-backed rebels.
Following last month's attacks, senior UAE officials renewed calls for the Biden administration to reimpose Washington's terrorist designation against the Houthis, which was lifted soon after US President Joe Biden took office last year as a goodwill gesture to Iran.
Since then there has been a marked increase in Houthi-inspired terrorist activity, with Gulf security officials reporting a significant uplift in Houthi attacks.
So far the Biden administration has resisted calls to redesignate the Houthis as terrorists. But with concerns mounting over Gulf security, the Pentagon announced it had deployed F-22 Raptor fighter jets to the UAE last weekend as part of an American defense response to recent missile attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels targeting the country.
The Raptors landed at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, which hosts some 2,000 U.S. troops. American soldiers there launched Patriot interceptor missiles in response to the Houthi attacks last month, the first time U.S. troops have fired the system in combat since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The increased tensions caused by the recent upsurge in Houthi terrorist activity also raise questions about the future prospects of a nuclear deal being concluded between Iran and the world's major powers over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.
Western diplomats involved in the talks currently taking place in Vienna to revive the controversial nuclear deal former US President Barack Obama helped to broker with Tehran have expressed dismay at the slow pace of progress, and have accused Tehran of playing for time.
But with fresh evidence of Iran's malign involvement in supporting terrorist activity in the Middle East mounting by the day, the prospects of a new nuclear deal being concluded become ever more remote.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.