Iran used front companies to mar relations between Turkey and Yemen
Thousands of small arms that the Dubai police captured in 2011 were allegedly shipped from Turkey to Yemen via another Gulf country. (Photo: EPA)
The investigation into reported arms shipments bound for Yemen from Turkey by sea in the last two years has revealed that Iran was actually using front companies established in Turkey to sabotage good relations between Yemen and Turkey.
Turkish authorities looking into the arms shipment bound for Yemen have concluded that a third country was actually behind the 35,615 Turkish-made blank firing pistols that were seized on a ship that departed from Turkey. The incident, which intelligence officials have described as a “false flag” operation, was used to cover up other large weapon smuggling attempts targeting factions in Yemen.
It was obvious that the arms smuggling trap was set for Turkey by hiding blank firing pistols hidden in biscuit boxes bound for Yemen although export of these items are perfectly legal to Gulf Countries and Saudi Arabia from Turkey.
A Turkish official, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "When the first arms shipment bound for Yemen were seized by Dubai police, we considered this as an ordinary arm-smuggling incident. But, when the second shipment, which occurred 20 months later followed the first shipment and was followed by third and fourth shipments at 40-day intervals, we understood that Turkey was being drawn into a trap. Otherwise, how can you explain that some people have illegally shipped large amounts of small weapons to Yemen through Turkey and anonymously reported the weapons at customs during the last two years?"
The same official also claimed that a third country that wants to damage Turkish-Yemeni relations and tarnish Turkey's image in the eyes of Arab nations uses these illegal arms shipment originating from Turkey to Yemen to cover up their arms smuggling operations in Yemen. Underlining that the same circles are trying to present the Turkish-made blank firing pistols seized at customs as if they are real weapons, he disclosed that the intelligence reports point to Iran.
He also noted that 36,000 blank firing pistols, which have been declared as biscuit, furniture, kitchen equipment and sanitary ware at customs, would not make any difference for rebels seeking to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years, because these pistols are designed to be used with rubber bullets.
Although modified blank pistols can shoot real bullets, they cannot be used efficiently in the long run. Considering that it is possible to buy a Kalashnikov for $50 or $100 in a marketplace in Yemen where the number of guns per capita is 2.5 and the cost of modified blank pistols that can shoot real bullets, it become clear that the aim of these shipments is to tarnish Turkey's image.
Insidious plots to disrupt Turkish-Yemeni relations
In response to reports in the media concerning the smuggling attempts, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a press release saying it is out of the question for Turkish authorities to grant permission for this type of arms export to a region with a high risk of conflict that would result in more deaths. The statement emphasized that Turkey will continue to support the Yemeni authorities to strengthen its stability and security as it is going through a period of national reconciliation.
In addition to the public statement, the government also sent National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı to Yemen to talk to Yemeni officials and investigate the incidents on the spot.
Fidan has provided detailed information to the Yemeni officials regarding the reported arms shipment from Turkey and rejected claims that arms shipments to Yemen had been authorized by Ankara.
The same Turkish official told Today's Zaman that Yemeni authorities made it clear to Fidan that Yemen does not hold Turkey responsible for the reported arms shipments from Turkey, and they suspect a third country is indeed involved in this campaign.
“Considering Iran's clandestine and illicit operations to destabilize Yemen, Iran is the usual suspect in this case. Iranians are skillful in conducting numerous covert operations like this. It is also interesting that an Iran-backed news website was the first to report development on this matter. Thus, when we consider all these, Iran is the first thing that comes to mind," he explained.
Today's Zaman has also confirmed the investigation with another confidential source in Yemen's capital of Sana who underlined that neither the Yemeni government nor the people there believe that Turkey is sending blank firing pistols to the rebels.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to talk to the press, explained that there are only a few news websites linked to the Iranian regime that are trying to keep the issue on the agenda in Yemen.
On Jan. 23, 2012, when Yemeni media was covering the news reports on arms shipments originating in Turkey and bound for Yemen, an Iranian vessel carrying weapons to Yemen was seized. The Yemeni intelligence organization announced that the amount of explosives and heavy weapons seized on the vessel, the Cihan 1, which would have claimed the lives of millions of Yemeni people, is far more dangerous than an ordinary arms-smuggling operation.
Yemeni officials believe that the reported arms shipments from Turkey were just an attempt to cover up the weapon-smuggling operation conducted via the Cihan 1.
The source in Yemen said that local companies that ordered the cargo in question have not attempted to clear their goods from customs. What is more, arms shipments from Turkey have been reported immediately after the ships' entrance to the ports.
"And oddly enough, news websites and a television channel that have close ties with Iran were the first to report the developments on this matter. Looking at the data available to us, we can say that there have been insidious plots in place to disrupt Turkish-Yemeni relations. We also have to note that arms-smuggling activities in Yemen are dominated by Iranian nationals," the source said.
Iran, which is using Yemen as a front line against Saudi Arabia, does not welcome the normalization process in Yemen. Moreover, Iran is also supporting the separatist Shiite Houthi rebels fighting against Sunni Salafis in Yemen's northwestern Sa'dah region.
It has also been speculated that weapons seized on the Cihan 1 might have been bound for Houthi rebels. The United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee has also taken actions against Iran's attempts to destabilize Yemen with weapons shipments.
Iranian espionage ring eliminated in Yemen
The source of tension between the Yemeni government and Iran is not only about weapons shipments. Yemeni intelligence discovered an Iranian espionage gang in July 2012. It was revealed that the Iranian espionage gang, whose leader was a former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, has been actively propagandizing and promoting divisions and separatism in Yemen and the Horn of Africa for seven years.
Indicating the close relations among the Iranian and Syrian embassies and the gang, Yemeni intelligence announced that the gang, which lent support to the separatist movements in Yemen including the Houthis in the north and the Hirak movement in the south, had a Syrian diplomat and close to 50 Yemeni academics as its members.
After an operation launched into the espionage gang, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi expressed his unhappiness with Iran's foreign policies in the region and its intervention in Yemen's internal affairs.
The biggest supporter of the Houthis, which cause instability in Yemen, is Iran, and Iran lends weapons to Houthis via Eritrea. Saudi Arabia, which is disturbed by Shiite influence in the region, is conducting aerial strike against the Houthis. Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Morocco are also supporting the Yemeni government in order to prevent the influence and power of Iran in Yemen.
When asked to comment on Iranian arms shipments to Yemen through Turkey, the Iranian embassy in Ankara denied any knowledge of the matter. Abdolreza Raiss Shaghaghi, Iranian first counselor in Ankara, told Today's Zaman that Iran has not received any complaints from Yemeni authorities on this issue.
The timeline on reported arms shipments
The first shipment:Acting on an intelligence report, United Arab Emirates (UAE) customs protection officers seized 16,000 Turkish-made blank firing pistols that were hidden behind boxes of furniture wrapped in plastic in a cargo shipping container in March 2011.
Dubai police said the shipment originated in Turkey and informed the Turkish authorities of this issue. Six people were detained. Turkish police questioned the owner and employers of the manufacturing company in İstanbul. Company officials said that a third party, which had bought the pistols, had paid in advance, and as the company, they had no connection with this shipment. The company owner has been tried and convicted of arms smuggling, and his company's license has been canceled.
The second shipment: On Nov. 3, 2012, a cargo-shipping container originating from Turkey was searched in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, and 2,500 Turkish-made pistols, which were counterfeit knockoffs of legitimate brands, were found in biscuit boxes inside the container. The sender was identified as a Turkish company, but the company that manufactured the weapons could not be identified. Turkish police are trying to shed light on the source of the weapon by making a ballistic examination of the weapons provided by Yemeni authorities. The Beyşehir Prosecutor's Office in İstanbul is currently conducting the investigation.
The third shipment:Yemeni police in the western province of Hudaida seized 7,000 Turkish rifles hidden inside a truck on Dec. 13, 2012. The Turkish Embassy in Sana's has requested information and permission to conduct an examination from Yemeni authorities. However, Yemeni authorities have not positively responded to the Turkish Embassy's request yet.
The fourth shipment:A ship arrived at the port on Nov. 15, 2012, and was waiting for its cargo to be unloaded. The receiver of the cargo never showed up to claim it. When Yemeni officials raided the ship, they found another shipment of “Turkish-made” guns. The ship, whose consignment was declared as kitchen equipment and sanitary ware at customs, contained 10,000 small arms and 115 T14 Turkish-made assault rifles.
Upon the invitation of Aden's customs chief, Mohammed Zumam, Turkey's ambassador to Yemen immediately went to the port and met with Yemeni officials. The ambassador also examined the weapons from the ship. Making a joint press release, the Turkish ambassador and Zumam stressed that the shipment of arms took place without official authorization from Turkey.
The fifth shipment:Yemeni security forces identified a small boat in the port of Mocha near the city of Taiz smuggling weapons in May 2013. In the armed conflict with the smugglers, one soldier was wounded. It has been revealed that the seized weapons were Turkish-made blank firing pistols. Yemeni security forces have announced that as they have intensified inspections at customs, the arms smuggling is reportedly done by sea, and since January they have prevented six similar arms-smuggling attempts.