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Economy |

US sanctions effective at slowing IRGC in Yemen

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad

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A picture taken on June 19th, 2018 in Abu Dhabi shows Iranian-made Ababil drones which the Emirati armed forces say were used by the Houthis in Yemen in battles against Arab coalition forces. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

US sanctions have been effective in curbing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force's (IRGC-QF) destabilising efforts in Yemen and have yielded quick and positive results, officials and Yemeni experts said.

Most notably, there was a significant decline in the activities of Iran-affiliated companies and individuals inside Yemen as a result of fading support from foreign and regional banks, local merchants, institutions, and even citizens who receive remittances from abroad.

The decline coincided with a statement issued by the legitimate Yemeni government, as it welcomed the US sanctions on Iranian entities involved in smuggling weapons to Yemen's Houthis (Ansarallah).

The government said Wednesday (December 12th) it welcomes the "imposition of sanctions on eight Iranian entities involved in helping smuggle weapons from Iran to the Houthi militia".

"The US decision confirms Yemen's repeated warnings about the growing Iranian threat to the security and stability of the region and the entire world, in light of the regime's persistent efforts to smuggle weapons and provide financial and logistical support to the Houthi militia, in a blatant challenge to the international community and Security Council resolutions," the statement said.

US commitment to stability in Yemen

On December 11th, the US Treasury designated an Iranian shipping network involved in smuggling lethal aid from Iran to Yemen on behalf of the IRGC-QF.

The sanctions were imposed on a shipping network led by Iranian businessman Abdolhossein Khedri for its involvement in shipping lethal weapons to the Houthis.

The sanctions also targeted three Mahan Air general sales agents based in the UAE and Hong Kong for their role in propping up Mahan Air's commercial operations.

Mahan Air was designated in October 2011 for providing financial, material, or technological support to the IRGC-QF.

"The Iranian regime uses its aviation and shipping industries to supply its regional terrorist and militant groups with weapons, directly contributing to the devastating humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen," Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said in a statement.

"Aside from the fact that the US sanctions are effective, they are an affirmation of US commitment to a safe and stable Yemen that is free of terrorism and Iranian militias that sow death and destruction wherever they set foot," Shabwa governor Mohammed bin Edeyo told Al-Mashareq.

"The sanctions hit companies and fronts that aid the Quds Force in delivering weapons, money and funding to the Houthis," he said, noting that there has been a notable decline in Iran-related activities since the sanctions were imposed.

"The Houthis need functioning companies and fronts to carry on their activities," he said, adding that US sanctions have made them "retreat and crumble financially", which has significantly reduced their activities.

Sanctions affect IRGC-affiliated entities

Several money transfer, currency exchange and postal services companies, as well as consumer card companies active in Houthi-controlled areas "are now being boycotted", Taiz province chamber of commerce member Ali al-Jaradi told Al-Mashareq.

"Some of the companies changed their names, email addresses, postal addresses and even their social media accounts, to no avail," he said.

"One such company was Ansar Exchange [in Sanaa], and its subsidiary Saba Money Transfer, which receive remittances from expatriate Yemenis to their families inside the country," he said.

However, companies abroad have stopped financial dealings with Ansar, which is affiliated with the Iran-based Ansar Exchange and Ansar Bank, both designated by the US, he added.

"The impact of the sanctions will become clearer over time, and they will stifle the Iranians as the means they have to help the Houthis narrow down," al-Jaradi said.

"Some companies such as Ansar, Saba and Bank Saderat Iran, which has a branch in Sanaa, as well as airlines and air freight companies, used to be the most prominent in Yemen, but have recently seen a decline in their business," Yemeni journalist Mohammed al-Dhabyani said.

People now conduct business with other banks and companies in Aden, Taiz and al-Bayda that are not affiliated with sanctioned Iranian companies, he said.

Even financial institutions in the Gulf, Turkey, Jordan, and various European countries are avoiding any dealings with Iranian front companies designated by the US, he told Al-Mashareq.

"This will be a lesson in the future to whoever contemplates dealing with the IRGC-QF, not only in Yemen but in other countries too," he added.

Since its inception, the Houthi movement has been guided and trained by IRGC experts, and today it is trying to set itself up as a parallel authority to the state, similar to Hizbullah in Lebanon, Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies director Abdulsalam Mohammed told Al-Mashareq.

With this, it aims to have total control over Yemen's political decision, he said.

"Along with building a parallel military organisation, Iran built an economic and financial system for the Houthis using several front entities," he said.

"The US sanctions attempt to blow up those fronts and cut off many of the Houthis' funding sources," he said, adding that it is important that the sanctions continue in order to weaken IRGC's efforts in Yemen.

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