The Iranian navy has dispatched commandos and warships to the Gulf of Aden, Iranian naval chief Amir Qaderpanah said Nov. 14. Qaderpanah added that the deployment was ordered to protect Iranian cargo ships and oil tankers from Somali pirates. While Somali pirates may be a security issue in the Gulf of Aden, this is not the only reason for the deployment. Iran is engaged in an escalating proxy battle with Saudi Arabia in the Saudi-Yemeni borderland, where Iran has been arming a Shiite Houthi rebellion to threaten Saudi Arabia's underbelly. Iran appears to be using the naval assets to protect its supply lines to the Houthi rebels. Though there is no shortage of weapons in Yemen, Iran has ensured that the Houthis remain well-stocked. STRATFOR sources have reported that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are training Houthis on how to produce improvised explosive devices for use in their insurgent campaign against Saudi and Yemeni forces. According to STRATFOR sources, the traditional supply route Iran uses to arm the Houthis starts at Asab Harbor on the Eritrean coast. IRGC officers buy and transport weapons in Somalia and Eritrea, and then load them onto ships at the harbor. The ships then cross the Red Sea northward to Salif on the Yemeni coast. From Salif, the supplies pass through Hajjah and Huth in northern Yemen before reaching Saada, where the Houthi rebels are concentrated. This route, however, has become more problematic for the Iranians ever since Saudi naval forces deployed three warships along the Red Sea coast of northern Yemen on Nov. 12 to interdict the arms, though STRATFOR is still examining Saudi interdiction tactics and the quality of the intelligence used to identify arms shipments. This traditional route is still being used to transport light arms, but given the Saudi deployment, Iran has shifted to a longer route that also begins at Asab Harbor, but then snakes around the heel of the Arabian Peninsula in the Gulf of Aden before reaching Shaqra on the southern Yemeni coast. From Shaqra, the supplies go to Marib in central Yemen, on to Baraqish and finally reach the Saada Mountains. Throughout the supply chain, bribes are paid to various tribes to facilitate the arms shipments. (click here to enlarge image) The IRGC also has been involved in ferrying Hezbollah fighters to Yemen to support the Houthi insurgency. A STRATFOR source claims that around 60 of Hezbollah's fighters have died in the conflict thus far. Their corpses were sent by boat to Asab Harbor in Eritrea, from which the IRGC flies them to Damascus. From the Syrian capital, the bodies are transported by land to the fighters' home villages for burial. It is not yet clear how aggressive Saudi and Iranian rules of engagement are, or how close they are to coming into conflict with one another. But with Iranian warships apparently facilitating the smuggling of arms that Riyadh is intent on interdicting, the potential for an incident or conflict at sea between is certainly on the rise.