Yemen war fuels dope-for-guns trade
The dizzyingly escalating crisis across the Middle East was ratcheted up several degrees last week as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf State allies intervened in Yemen, launching air-strikes against the Shi'ite rebels that have seized much of the country. Saudi troops are amassing on the border and there are fears that the air campaign, dubbed "Operation Decisive Storm," may soon be followed by a ground invasion. Within Yemen, Sunni tribes and militants in al-Qaeda's orbit are also battling the Shi'ite rebels, known as Houthis. (CNN, Al Jazeera, March 29; Yemen Post, March 22)
And you can bet that, in the predictable irony, both sides in the bitter Sunni-Shi'ite divide—equally intolerant of hashish-smokers and khat-chewers, and equally eager to behead them or stone them to death—are turning to the dope trade to fund their arsenals. As the war has escalated in Yemen in recent months, so have seizures of hashish and other illicit substances along Yemen's borders. In but the most recent mega-bust, Saudi Arabia's Arab News on March 6 reported that Border Guards foiled an attempt by "infiltrators from Yemen" to smuggle a whopping 200 kilograms of hashish into the kingdom in backpacks. The guardsmen fired on the backpackers at the border village in Jazan; the smugglers dropped their loads and fled into the mountains. The same report said that in another operation, Border Guards chased a "suspicious car" at a nearby border village. The driver fled, while the Guards seized 17 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 17 magazines, and some 70,000 bullets.
The pan-Arab Al Monitor last year noted some of the more spectacular busts by Yemeni authorities—including dozens of ships loaded with weapons. The most famous of those was the Ceyhan 2, which was intercepted in early 2013—and which the Yemeni government claimed came from Iran (which is said to be backing the Houthis). It was loaded with sophisticated weapons, including missiles and explosives. There were also several intercepted shipments of Turkish weapons—most notably the so-called "chocolate deal," when a ship entered the port of Aden in November 2012 under the guise of shipping Turkish chocolate—only for security forces to discover that its real cargo was tens of thousands of Turkish pistols equipped with silencers. Another shipment with nearly 20,000 Turkish pistols, silencers attached, was intercepted in early 2013, aboard a convoy of trucks in Hudeidah province. The soldiers who made the discovery were honored by the state—but one of them was killed under mysterious circumstances days after being honored.