Iran using Yemen’s Houthis to achieve its sinister goals
Not only is the Iranian regime showing no sign of backing down from its destabilizing behavior in Yemen and its support for the Houthi militia group, it is actually escalating the conflict through its proxy.
One prominent example is how the Houthis have ratcheted up their attacks on Saudi Arabia. Even US officials have acknowledged the escalation, with a senior defense official telling NBC News: “We’re certainly aware of a troubling increase in Houthi cross-border attacks from a variety of systems, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).” The US, along with France, Germany, Italy and the UK, also last week condemned the “major escalation of attacks the Houthis have conducted and claimed against Saudi Arabia.”
More than 40 drones and missiles were launched at Saudi Arabia by the Houthis in February alone. The sophisticated weapons the militia group is using have most likely come from the Iranian regime. Based on a UN report released in January, there are strong signs that Tehran is a provider of weapons to the Houthis. The UN panel of experts report stated: “An increasing body of evidence suggests that individuals or entities in Iran supply significant volumes of weapons and components to the Houthis.” Iran relies mostly on the sea route to smuggle weapons to the Houthis, although several shipments bound for war-torn Yemen have been seized.
The Iranian regime has several objectives for escalating the conflict and interfering in Yemen’s domestic affairs. First of all, by sponsoring the Houthis, the regime is attempting to gain leverage over the Biden administration ahead of potential new nuclear deal negotiations.
Secondly, the modus operandi of Tehran is to control other nations through its proxies. As Massoud Jazayiri, the former deputy head of Iran’s Armed Forces, told Iran’s Tasnim News Agency early in the Yemen conflict, Tehran was ready to copy the process it adopted in Syria and use it in Yemen too.
Thirdly, Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions direct its leaders to pursue policies that are aimed at countering the power of other state actors (mainly Saudi Arabia), weakening their strategic, economic and geopolitical significance in order to tip the Middle East’s balance of power in favor of Tehran.
While one can argue that Yemen does not pose a national security threat to Iran, it does to Saudi Arabia, since the two countries share a border.
Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions direct its leaders to pursue policies that are aimed at countering the power of other state actors.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
An important dimension of Iran’s involvement in Yemen is ideological. A core pillar of its foreign policy is anchored in its so-called Islamic revolutionary principles. The key decision-maker in Iran’s foreign policy is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who pursues the ideology of his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini. One of Khamenei’s underlying "revolutionary values" is that he views himself as the leader of the Muslim world. As a result, from Khamenei’s perspective, influencing and directing the political affairs of every Muslim country, including Yemen, is his religious and ideological duty.
Another of Iran’s revolutionary ideals is anti-Americanism. Khamenei regards his rhetoric and projection of Iran’s increasing role in Yemen’s conflict as a tactic to counterbalance America’s role in the region.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has emboldened and empowered the Houthis by reversing the militia group’s terrorist designation. It is incumbent on White House to pursue a firmer policy toward the Houthis and to block Iran’s supply of weapons to the group.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh