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Gareth Porter says the claim that Iran is supplying Houthis with weapons ignores that the group was flush with American arms from ex-president Saleh

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. According to the White House, Iran is supplying arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now joining us to discuss this is Gareth Porter. Gareth is an investigative journalist and writes for many publications, and often appears on The Real News. Thanks for joining us, Gareth. GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thank you very much, Paul. JAY: So what do you make of these reports that apparently there’s an Iranian ship on its way to Yemen, there were claims coming from the White House and others that there was Iranian weapons for the Houthis on it. The Iranians as far as I know denied it. What do you know about this? PORTER: Well first of all, that whole notion that there was a flotilla of Iranian ships on the way to Yemen to deliver arms was completely manufactured. I mean, there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that those ships were on their way to Yemen, that they were supposed to deliver anything, let alone arms to Yemen. I mean, the Iranians actually said that the ships were there as part of a effort to suppress piracy. Whether that was true or not I don’t know, but the idea that they were there to deliver arms is simply something that was created by the news media without any evidence whatsoever. And–. JAY: Well, it’s not just by the news media because it’s coming out of the White House as well. PORTER: Well, I–you know, the initial announcement by the Pentagon of the fact that the Pentagon was sending another ship, the USS George Washington, to waters offshore of Yemen was not specifically for the purpose of intercepting arms. They did not mention the idea that there were arms on the way to Yemen. Certainly there’s been no indication that they had any information to that effect. And what they said was that it was, in fact, an effort to reassure. It was part of a reassurance of the Saudis that the United States was in a position to have all the options necessary to deal with the situation in Yemen. So it was not, in fact, even intended or said to be intended initially and officially to intercept arms. JAY: So you think this is more about the Americans trying to say to the Saudis, yes we’re negotiating a deal with Iran over the nuclear program but that doesn’t mean we’re not in your court if there’s any actual fight with the Iranians, for example, what people–some people are calling a proxy war in Yemen. Some people are saying it’s not. PORTER: Absolutely. There’s no question in my mind that that is the primary overwhelmingly dominant reason for the United States to send a battleship to the waters offshore Yemen. It’s not because they believed that the Iranians were delivering arms at all. And as I pointed out in a story that I just published yesterday, the fact is that the Houthis don’t need Iranian arms. That’s the last thing on earth that they’ve needed for the last several months, because they have been awash in a whole new collection of arms that they have acquired essentially courtesy of former president Saleh of Yemen, who has been their primary ally in the months since they began to push into, or toward and into, the capital of Sana’a. And that’s why they’ve been able to march into one Yemen military base after another without a battle, because Saleh gave orders to the people who he still controls, who still have control of the Yemeni military, not to resist the Houthis because they are now the allies against the old government. That is, the Hadi government, which basically Saleh wanted to get rid of. JAY: I mean, one of the reports was that there’s a specific need by the Houthis for surface-to-air missiles, and that’s what Iran was sending. PORTER: That may be someone’s speculation. But the idea that the Houthis are planning to fire missiles at Saudi aircraft and that that’s part of this deal, that there’s going to be a confrontation over that, that’s completely speculative. There’s absolutely no evidence for it. I’ve never seen anything indicating that. I would be very surprised if the Houthis were prepared to get into a confrontation–certainly the Iranians, prepared to get into a confrontation over trying to send surface-to-air missiles to Yemen under the present circumstances. JAY: Yeah, it does seem like it would not be the right time to have some confrontation with the American Navy. PORTER: And by the way, Paul, there’s another story that has been published the last few days by Huffington Post indicating that a U.S. intelligence official has told the Post–the Huffington Post–that U.S. intelligence believes that Iran actually warned the Houthis against going into Sana’a, to capture the capital. There’s no details provided as to why the Iranians were opposed to the Houthis going into Sana’a, but it would suggest that in fact the Houthis basically now regard former president Saleh as their main ally, as the ticket to power in Yemen, and that Iran’s ability to control the Houthis or to tell the Houthis what they should do is clearly limited. JAY: In most of the media, even analysts I’ve talked to who are very critical of the Saudis, critical of U.S. policy, there is an assumption there that Iran is helping the Houthis. You think there’s no evidence of any kind of support? PORTER: No, no, I’m not saying that at all. I suspect that there has been certainly advice. Some training, perhaps. JAY: One of the reports was the Revolutionary Guard may have actual trainers on the ground. There may be some training taking place by Hezbollah. PORTER: That’s possible that there’s some people involved in training. But I think that that needs to be distinguished from two, two points. Or two questions. One, have the Iranians actually been providing arms to the Houthis, and particularly over the last seven or eight months since the Houthis entered Sana’a and took control? And secondly, are the Houthis actually following Iranian orders? Are they proxies of the Iranians in the sense that the Iranians are pulling the strings? And in my view the evidence now is very strong that both of those questions have to be answered with a negative. JAY: I mean, I think it needs to be said it’s somewhat ironic, or maybe that’s not a strong enough word, that the Saudis, who are the main people making these claims are pouring arms into Syria and themselves intervening in Yemen. I’m not sure why it is that the media here seems to think that’s okay and somehow even if Iran is doing this, somehow that’s not okay. PORTER: Well indeed I think one could go even beyond what you’ve just said, which is entirely correct, and point out that what the Saudis are doing is blatantly a violation of international law. I mean, there’s absolutely no legal basis for the Saudis to be carrying out a bombing operation in Yemen. There is no government requesting that in Yemen to have the assistance of the Saudis in carrying out a war against the Houthis. In that sense, this is a blatant total violation of international law. And no one seems to be pointing that out. Certainly the United States is avoiding that question like the plague. And that certainly puts the question of Iranian ties with the Houthis, even possible training of the Houthis, in a slightly different perspective. JAY: All right, thanks very much for joining us, Gareth. PORTER: Thank you, Paul. JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.