An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander confirmed for the first time that the Yemeni Ansar Allah (Houthis) struck targets following the IRGC’s order, according to transcripts of a speech published on Aug. 7.
“We told the Yemenis to strike two Saudi oil tankers, and they did,” said Brigadier General Second Class Naser Shabani, the operations deputy of Sarallah Base (Tehran), which is tasked with security in the capital during emergency situations. “Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah are our rear guards in the region, the enemy is so vulnerable that we can engage them beyond the border, but of course we do not insist on engaging Saudi Arabia beyond the border.”
The head of IRGC Public Relations denied Shabani made that statement and said that the articles misattributed the quotes. According to Brigadier General Second Class Ramezan Sharif, Shabani actually said “the enemy and some Western officials and outlets are trying to make it appear that we have told the Yemenis to strike the Saudis’ frigates, while the Yemenis and Lebanese have reached the capability to defend their national interests.”
IRGC-affiliated Fars News and many Iran-based outlets have removed the article.
Sharif also said that Shabani “does not currently have any responsibility in the Guard Corps.” That is while Shabani is cited as Sarallah Operations Deputy as recently as of July 11 and head of the Defense-Security Research Center at the IRGC Imam Hossein University as of June. There is no indication in open source that Shabani was replaced from either of those senior positions. Sharif is likely trying to cover up.
Islamic Republic officials have recently ramped up threats to close the Hormuz Strait and strike in the Bab al Mandeb Strait as the US moves to impose oil sanctions and tries to bring Iranian exports to “zero.” On July 22, President Hassan Rouhani warned that Tehran could close “other straits than Hormuz.” On the same night, President Donald Trump via Twitter issued his own threats against Rouhani. Then, on July 25, Saudi Arabia announced that it was temporarily suspending oil shipments through the Bab al Mandeb Strait after two tankers sustained minor damage from missiles launched by Houthis.
The following day, Qods Force chief Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani fired back at President Trump and touted that “the Red Sea is no longer safe” for the US. On July 30, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh – chairman of the Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Committee – told the media that “one time, Iran’s only win card was the Strait of Hormuz … but today across the region, there are groups that believe they owe the Islamic Republic from an advisory aspect.”
Falahatpisheh, however, said that “no missiles in Bab al Mandeb and the Red Sea belong to Iran, but these are missiles that belong to warriors who consider Iran as sympathetic from a broad strategic perspective.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened that Israel would join an international coalition if Tehran attempts to close the Bab al Mandeb Strait.
Iranian government officials have previously denied providing direct military support to Ansar Allah. The UN has documented Iranian-supplied missiles there and has concluded that Tehran violated an arms embargo on Yemen.