Iran & Region V: Yemen's Houthis

January 26, 2015

On January 22, Yemeni president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned under pressure from the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. The Houthis have controlled the capital city Sanaa (left) since September 2014. In Yemen, Iran is widely seen as the main backer of the Houthi movement. University of Tehran professor Nasser Hadian told The Iran Primer that the Iranian Qods force has likely been advising the Houthis militarily, but that Iran’s influence in Yemen is not as strong as many believe. The following is an excerpt from Hadian's interview on Iran's goals in the region followed by key quotes by Iranian officials on Yemen.

In Yemen, the Houthis have emerged over the last 6 months as a dominant player. They now control the capital. What is Iran doing in Yemen? What does Iran want to see happen?
I cannot imagine that Iran is not involved in Yemen, especially since the Houthis seized power so quickly. But it’s probably not to the extent that the West believes. Iran is probably advising the Houthis militarily, likely through the Qods force. But Iran’s plate is already full dealing with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Iran cannot play a very active role in Yemen. And the Houthis actually don’t need that much help. They are probably receiving money, but not arms – they are already well armed. The point is that they have their own grievances, their own organization, and their own reasons to rebel. So Iran is probably not spending that many resources in Yemen.
Iran is not concerned about who is in power in Yemen as long as the government has a good, friendly relationship with Iran. Iran is not necessarily looking for an Islamic government or a Houthi government – it realizes the Houthis are a minority.
The rise of the Houthis is more an indication of the failure of Saudi Arabia’s influence than the success of Iran’s policy. Yemen and Saudi Arabia are linked to one another, and the Saudis have channeled a lot of resources to Yemen.
Iran does not consider Saudi Arabia a threat, but the Saudis felt threatened by Iran even under the shah. Since the revolution, they have taken all sorts of measures to contain Iran’s influence. They are spending money in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, principally to counter Iran. The formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council was part of that as well. They want to contain Iran and limit its resources. For the Saudis, the cost of that action is what’s going on in Yemen.
Key Quotes by Iranian Officials
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“Misunderstandings among Yemeni political groups need to be removed through talks.”
“Iran always tries to help establish stability in all countries. As for Yemen [the Islamic Republic] will tap into all its potential to help establish lasting peace [in the Arab country].”
 – Jan. 21, 2015, according to Iran Front Page

Chief of the Joint Staff of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Lieutenant Gen. Hossein Salami
After noting that the Houthis are inspired by Iran's Islamic Republic: "The Iranian Islamic Revolution is not only working on spreading the culture that wakes up and develops the mentality of the Muslim world, but it is also working toward activating confrontation, which has pulled the rug from under the foreign forces in the region."
The region is still searching for "a new political and security order. The Islamic Republic of Iran is contributing to producing this order. We have advanced on the enemy in this regard and we have the initiative in shaping this order."
– Jan. 1, 2015, according to the press

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham
"Full implementation of the approvals made in the national talks and the Peace and Partnership Agreement can bring tranquility and stability back to Yemen.”
"We again want all signatories of the agreements to remain committed to what they have undertaken.”
 – Jan. 21, 2015, according to the press

The Supreme Leader's Representative in the Qods Force and Revolutionary Guards Ali Shirazi
“The Houthi group is a similar copy to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and this group will come into action against enemies of Islam."
“The Islamic republic directly supports the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the popular forces in Syria and Iraq...officials in the country have reiterated this many times.”
“A coup against Ansarallah [also known as Houthis] means a coup against the people. Ansarallah is not a small group or a special party as it represents the Yemeni people and its awakening.”
“Hezbollah was formed in Lebanon as a popular force like al-Basij. Similarly popular forces were also formed in Syria and Iraq, and today we are watching the formation of Ansarallah in Yemen,”
 – Jan. 26, 2015, according to the press
Photo credits: Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Mosque Minaret, Sana'a) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons