Developments in Yemen
There was nothing surprising in Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s pledge of continued support to Yemen’s Houthi militias.
“I declare my support for the resistance of Yemen’s believing men and women… Yemen’s people… will establish a strong government,” Khamenei told the visiting chief negotiator of the Houthi movement Mohammed Abdul Salam.
The Houthis have been among Iran’s most loyal proxies in the region. That has meant fuelling a devastating war in Yemen since 2014 against the country’s internationally recognised government, causing thousands of casualties and putting millions of Yemeni civilians in harm’s way and at risk of starvation.
Although Iran has been a key driver of sectarian strife in Yemen, Khamenei tried to posture as a defender of Yemen’s unity and territorial integrity.
Khamenei’s message hardly carries any credibility since Iran and its Houthi proxies are at the core of Yemen’s civil strife.
Iran’s Tasnim News Agency said the Houthi delegation handed a letter to Khamenei from the movement’s leader, Abdelmalik al-Houthi. It is unlikely the letter contained a message of peace.
The Houthis’ task has been facilitated by the seeming complacency of the Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi government in the campaign to stop the Houthis. A “legitimate” government is as legitimate as the tangible actions it undertakes to buttress its international recognition. That wasn’t the case in Yemen despite the support the Hadi government received from the Arab coalition.
Recent moves by the Southern Transitional Council in Aden were in great part triggered by the determination to thwart the Houthis’ actions and their manifest alliance with al-Qaeda. The disruptive role of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated al-Islah party, as an ally of the Hadi government, further wrinkled the effort to stand up to the Houthis.
With mounting tensions in the Gulf, especially after the United States imposed sanctions on Iran, the Houthis have been suspected of playing the role of an Iranian surrogate in carrying out destabilising activities, including attacks on Saudi oil installations and airports, essentially through the use of drones.
International experts said Iran’s support focused on the supply and operation of drones. This allowed Houthi drones to drop increasingly bigger bombs at more remote distances. Regional experts say Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hezbollah provided the Houthis with expertise on the use of drones. Video uplinks have been reportedly operated from Tehran and Beirut for that purpose.
Much like their Iranian patrons, the Houthis share a propensity to blame foreign plots for their internal woes and misguided actions.
While frustrating the efforts of the United Nations and the Arab coalition to provide Yemenis with food and humanitarian aid, they have blamed corruption for the blocked food distribution.
The Houthis’ iron-fisted practices have faced stiff resistance and internal divisions even in areas under their control. After Ibrahim Badreddin al-Houthi, a brother of Abdelmalik al-Houthi, was killed in Sana’a earlier this month the Houthis predictably blamed the assassination on “the treacherous hands affiliated with the US-Israeli aggression and its tools.”
Their accusations reflected a Tehran-like conspiratorial mind and an indication of the type of regime the Houthis would impose with the help of Iran if they had their way in Yemen.