U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley presented what she claimed to be "undeniable" evidence proving Iran is illegally supplying arms to Houthis rebels in Yemen, thus helping spur on the civil war that has been raging for nearly three years.
An assortment of weapons components were presented to a group of reporters on Thursday, including portions of missiles, an exploding boat and a drone... all of which are believed to have originated in Iran. The centerpiece of the exhibition was a large Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile which was allegedly fired at Saudi Arabia from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.
"When you look at this missile, this is terrifying," Haley told the crowd at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. "We have said multiple times that this is not just about the nuclear program, this is about everything else they are doing, because Iran believes that they have been given a pass."
U.S. officials have long suspected Iran of supplying arms to the Houthi rebels, but Haley's exhibition is the first time journalists have had a chance to see the weapons up close. The most striking evidence were the markings adorned on the fragments which appear to match that of Shahid Bagheri Industrist, a known Iranian manufacturer.
"I think the evidence here speaks for itself," Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told me in an interview. "Now we can debate the metrics and the logic."
But not everyone is convinced.
A United Nations panel reviewed the remains and concluded it "has no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier," according to Foreign Policy. Even if the missile is Iranian in origin, it is unclear if it was directly supplied to the Houthis by Iran itself, or if it was supplied before or after the U.N. put an arms embargo on Yemen in 2015. These unanswered questions have led some to compare Haley's exhibition to that of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's claim to the U.N. that the U.S. had proof that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction in 2003. Powell's claim helped make the case for war.
So why does all this matter?
First, because Yemen is currently suffering from one of the worst humanitarian crises that exists today. Much of the population is starving and suffers from the rampant spread of disease. Children across the country suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration are gaunt beyond recognition, made up of little more than skin and bone.
This is all a result of ongoing civil war between the U.S. and Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels. The nearly three-year-long war continues to rage as all sides continue to fight over territory. The Houthis, who do not field anything close to the resources of their adversaries, have been augmented by Iranian support.
"What Iran is looking to do is co-opt their cause," said Taleblu. "It's doing this by providing them select weapons to keep the conflict going."
Those weapons include the Qiam-1 missile, which Taleblu says is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, per international standards. Others, like Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, disagree.
"It's not a nice thing for them to do, but that's not the standard," Lewis told the New York Times.
Nuclear capable or not, ballistic missiles provide an important advantage for the Houthis by allowing them to threaten Saudi territory.
Iran is well-known for its support of both official and insurgent forces across the Middle East, which some analysts and officials believe is an attempt to force their influence on the region. Countries like Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq, a U.S. ally, all have close ties to the Iranians, something which concerns the U.S. Arab allies.
But why would the Houthis target Saudi Arabia when they are fighting the Yemeni government on the front lines?
"I think Iran wants to bleed Saudi of money," said Taleblu. "I think Iran wants to ruin the reputation of any U.S. partner in the Middle East."
The Saudis have received heavy criticism for their role in the conflict as well. Analysts and journalists have raised concerns as to the amount of civilians being killed in Saudi strikes. Some have even blamed the Saudi blockade for exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.
While some remain unconvinced of Haley's claims, the evidence is the best the government has presented yet regarding Iran's involvement in the conflict.