An American magazine said that “suicide drones” made their way to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Newsweek stated in a report translated by “The Yemeni Scene”, that the two drones that appeared in the pictures regarding the attack on the Mercer Street tanker and the Al-Alam area of the Yemeni army in Marib, have a similar design, but they are not the same.
Here is the full text of the report:
Iran-linked ‘suicide drones’ made their way to Houthi rebels
Tom O’Connor and Naveed Jamali
Experts told Newsweek that an unmanned aerial vehicle that appeared at an arms exhibition set up by the Houthi rebels who rule most of Yemen earlier this year starkly resembles a kamikaze drone believed to have been used later in a deadly attack on an oil tanker. off the coast of Oman.
US officials and other analysts have linked the system used in that and others like it to Iran, but experts also note the near-impossibility of drawing a direct link to any single source.
The Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged vessel that works for a company owned by an Israeli businessman, suffered two consecutive explosions last July while sailing through the Gulf of Oman. The latest explosion killed the ship’s captain, a Romanian national, along with its security officer, a British national.
The incident sparked international outrage, with the United States and Israel attributing the incident to one-way drones built by Iran, which denied any involvement in the attacks. The main suspect is a model referred to by foreign experts and officials as the “Shahed-136,” a so-called “suicide drone” with a range of 2,000 to 2,200 kilometers, or roughly 1,240 to 1,370 miles.
“We are confident, based on our assessment of the debris found from M/T Mercer Street, that the system used in the attack was an Iranian drone from the United Kingdom,” Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Barbara Woodward said in a briefing at a UN Security Council session last month. Shahid-136 is manufactured in Iran only.
But the unique “Delta-wing” drone has also been identified elsewhere, notably in Yemen, where the Houthi group has a very similar platform referred to as the Wade. Both sides rejected allegations that Iran was supplying the Houthis with these weapons.
But with the passage of time, the best publicly available images of the drone known as the Shahid-136 emerged after the Houthis attempted an attack on Saudi-backed forces near the Al-Alam area in the Yemeni province of Ma’rib last September. The US Central Command used a picture of this incident in its own assessment of linking Iran to the attack on the Mercer Street tanker.
And as the image appeared in a Newsweek report last January, which appears to show such weapons deployed in the Yemeni governorate of Al-Jawf. On the same day this report was published, the IRGC released a video of a similar but undisclosed drone being used to strike a tank during a training operation. More training footage of the use of Delta-winged drones was broadcast in May.
A side-by-side analysis details the similarities between the unmanned aerial vehicle displayed by the Houthis at what they called the “Martyr” exhibition in Yemen on March 11, 2021, and the remains of the so-called “Shahed-136” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) salvaged after its crash.
Neither Iran’s permanent mission to the United Nations nor a Houthi spokesman immediately responded to Newsweek’s request for comment.
However, as accusations against Tehran escalated in the wake of the Mercer Street tanker incident, last month the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations briefed Newsweek on a letter delivered to the UN Security Council by Iranian Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Zahra Ershadi.
In her letter to the UN Security Council, Irshady criticized the UK’s use of “unconfirmed terms as ‘highly likely’,” ‘preliminary assessments’ and ‘one or more drones’, as well as vague terms such as ‘international partners’, to arbitrarily accuse the Republic of Iran of attacking the Mercer Street.”
“This baseless claim – which was first raised, for obvious political purposes, by the Israeli regime immediately after the attack – is factually false and politically and morally irresponsible, and therefore categorically rejected,” said Irshady.
The Iranian permanent mission also referred Newsweek to indicative statements two days later at the United Nations Security Council session in the wake of Woodward’s allegations.
“Immediately after this incident, Israeli officials accused Iran of the incident. This is what they usually do,” Irshadi added. “It is a regular practice of the Israeli regime, and its aim is to divert the attention of world public opinion from the regime’s crimes and inhumane practices in the region. To this end, they accuse others of wrongdoing. In almost all events in the Middle East Israel accuses Iran. They do so immediately and do not provide any evidence.”
Parallel to the two-year series of attacks off the Arabian Peninsula that the United States and Israel have blamed on Iran, there have been multiple strikes against Iranian ships carrying fuel to Syria. Officials in Tehran believe Israel is behind these actions, and Ershadi cited specific incidents in January, March and April, the most recent of which were the killing of three Syrians.
It is still difficult to blame attacks such as the one that hit the tanker Mercer Street, even when the wreck has been recovered. States and other potential entities do not want to be held responsible for their participation in such operations, and most of them can hide their fingerprints at sea and on land, as attacks by unidentified drones have appeared in places like Iraq.
“Honestly, I thought of it as an art,” a former US military official and drone expert told Newsweek. “The first time a painter draws, no one knows who painted it.”
Like art, drone attacks have a style and signature that can be replicated.
“Then they become more famous and maybe their style becomes clearer,” the former official added. “Then it’s copied, which makes it hard to tell if it’s real or not. Making it something that takes subtle skill to figure out the subtle differences.”
And in the case of the attacks attributed to Iran in the Gulf of Oman, the former official continued the technical analogy to say that the real value is not necessarily in the work itself, but rather in the identity of its perpetrators.
The former official continued, “Then build the analogy with the fact that what you’re really looking for is who used the drone and who made it.” “So even if you know that there is a good chance that Iran has succeeded, it is in their best interest to sell it to as many people as possible so they can use it more indiscriminately.”
And the former official added, in his analysis of the comparison between the drones used in the attack on the Mercer Street tanker (last July) and presented by the Houthi group in (March), that “80 percent of the aircraft are the same.”
Others have also identified an association, albeit with key differences.
“Iran uses cheaper and easier-to-use technologies for its proxies, which make it easier for them to use and also provide deniability,” an open source intelligence and weapons expert from Iran, Mahdi, told Newsweek.
He said the two drones featured in the photos “obviously have a similar design but are not the same.”
“The Shahid-136 uses a Wankel type engine, but Wade uses a conventional reciprocating piston engine,” he said.
The expert who originally shared the analysis with Newsweek agreed with Mahdi.
“I think the Waad and Shahed 136 are basically the same drones,” the expert added. “They may have a different engine but they are the same.”
Part of the US Central Command’s assessment of the Mercer Street attack, published on August 6, compares open source material from Iranian Delta Air Lines unmanned systems.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only superpower that has recognized the Houthi administration, through the so-called Supreme Political Council, as the legitimate authority in Yemen. And the country’s leadership has been unstable since 2012, when a revolution ousted its longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, after he had served more than three decades. His successor, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, faced mass protests and competing insurgencies.
The Houthis took control of the capital, Sanaa, in early 2015 amid nationwide unrest. The capture of Sanaa sparked a Saudi-led campaign among regional powers to defeat the Houthis and restore power to Hadi, who fled to the southern city of Aden and eventually left the country for Riyadh. Six and a half years after the outbreak of this civil war, Yemen is still divided, and the Houthis rule nearly 80% of the population.
In an effort to bring the conflict to Saudi Arabia, the Houthi group has launched a series of missile and drone attacks targeting the kingdom across the northern border. Saudi Arabia blamed Iran directly for the group’s sophisticated and bountiful arsenal.
Washington shares Riyadh’s skepticism about Tehran’s role in the Yemen conflict. But just two weeks after taking office, growing concerns about the humanitarian consequences of the Saudi-led airstrikes prompted President Joe Biden to announce he was halting offensive military assistance to operations there, which had been backed by two of his predecessors.
As the Yemen war continues to rage with no clear prospect of peace in sight, US involvement in the conflict has declined further in the US House of Representatives. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act introduced by Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California calling for a ban on US support for the Saudi-led campaign passed Thursday by a narrow margin of 219-207.
Similar efforts were passed by the House of Representatives in 2018 and 2019, but the bill marks the first such passage since Democrats took control of both houses of Congress and the White House, where former President Barack Obama first approved a US role in the war effort in Yemen. Back in 2015.
The conflict has also been at the heart of emerging diplomatic relations between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, which cut ties in 2016. During his first visit to New York since taking office in Iran’s newly elected administration, Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings. The United States said Friday that talks with Saudi officials, including proposals on Yemen, had proven “constructive”.