Iranian regime’s meddling in Yemen and support for the Houthis

Back in 1990 following the unification of north and south Yemen, the Iranian regime began its initiative of establishing a foothold in this fledgling and fragile country south of their regional nemesis Saudi Arabia. In 1990 and 1994, Tehran placed its support behind North Yemen, rendering a signed cultural pact on July 5, 1995, with Yemen’s unified government. This agreement served as a platform for the mullahs to expand their influence and fundamentalist measures.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry prepared an internal evaluation report on March 11, 1995, with the text being forward to the regime’s Islamic Cultural and Communications Organization, ICCO, lays out the framework of expanding the mullahs’ activities across Yemen.

  1. In view of the recent developments in Yemen and the desire of Yemeni officials to expand relations with the Islamic Republic, as well as the presence of Zaidi Shiites and the signing of a cultural pact between Tehran and Sana’a, it is imperative that the Islamic Republic maintain an active presence in that country. This could be done in the form of stationing a formal cultural envoy, or a cultural center or under the guise of a major library.

  2. At the moment, the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia have enormous influence in Yemen through the Jama’at ol-Islah and the President of the Parliament who is a Salafi Sunni. As such, some preventive measure must be taken.

  3. The Islamic Republic of Iran has taken a constructive position vis-à-vis the conflict in Yemen, including insistence on that country’s territorial integrity and religious identity, and supported the central government. During the civil war, many Yemeni patients were hospitalized and cared for by Iran.

  4. Dozens of Yemeni students are studying in Iranian universities.

Tehran’s relations with the al-Houthi family in Yemen:

With experience gathered from their years of meddling in Lebanon and launching the Hezbollah terrorist group, the Iranian regime has also been busy establishing a foothold in Yemen from all the way back in 1991. Tehran began its Yemen campaign by investing on forming a deep relationship with the Al-Houthi family. Hossein Al-Houthi, leader of the Yemeni rebels stationed in the city of Sa’deh and killed in 2004, rose to the rank of the rebels’ spiritual leader. Tehran literally recruited him in the early 1990s and through him the regime began pursuing their fundamentalist agenda in Yemen.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Hossein Al-Houthi, who had already established Yemen’s Society of Young Believers (SYB) and was working in concert with the country’s central government, steered his institution into adopting anti-American slogans similar to those long chanted by the Iranian regime to this day. The SYB began escalating their anti-American measures and initializing the “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” slogans in various mosques where they enjoyed influence.

In 2003, the Yemeni government arrested around 650 SYB members, ultimately leading to Al-Houthi to take up arms and revolt against the government. He was later killed by the Yemeni military in 2004.

Following his brother’s death, Abdulmaleh Al-Houthi assumed the group’s leadership beginning on September 10, 2004, and continues to this day. He has long been influenced by the writings and mentality of Ruhollah Khoemini, founder of the mullahs’ regime in Iran, and Tehran has been grooming Al-Houthi to become for Yemen what Hassan Nassrollah is to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Khomeini’s speeches, some of the messages delivered by Khamenei and Nasrollah have been known to be distributed in CDs across Yemen.

Through the years Tehran has been able to establish strong bonds between the SYB and Hezbollah. The ICCO issued a December 2010 report shedding light on the Iranian regime’s influence over the Houthis:

“Badroddin Al-Houthi, 90 years of age, is a charismatic figure and acts as the Marja (source of emulation) for the al-Houthi movement. Yahya al-Houthi is the elder brother Abdulmalek and lives in Germany. He is leading the rebels’ political and international campaign.

“Badroddin and his sons, Hossein and Abdulmalek, spent some time in Iran in the holy city of Qom. Abdulmalek spent more than one year in Iran. Badroddin and Abdulmalek have converted to 12er Imam Shiism, but this should not yet be made public. In his will, which has been given to Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Jalali in Qom, Badroddin has said that he has converted from Zaydi Shia to 12er Shia but has insisted that this should not be made public before his death.

Ossam al-Emad, a Yemeni cleric, has strong influence over the Yemenis who support Abdulmalek Al-Houthi in Qum. He was previously a Wahabi Sunni but converted to Shia Islam in Qom.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force has an active relationship with the Al-Houthis and provides them with military support. This relationship expanded during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and continues to grow to this day.

Iran’s documented support of the Houthis

The New York Times – March 2, 2013
“An Iranian dhow seized off the Yemeni coast was carrying sophisticated Chinese antiaircraft missiles, a development that could signal an escalation of Iran’s support to its Middle Eastern proxies… Among the items aboard the dhow, according to a review of factory markings on weapons and their packing crates, were 10 Chinese heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles, most of them manufactured in 2005… The U.S. has previously accused Iran, a Shiite-led theocracy, of sending weapons to the Houthis…”

The Washington Free Beacon – May 27, 2015
“Iran has dispatched additional paramilitary forces to Yemen to aid pro-Tehran rebels seeking to take control of the strategic southern Arabian state, according to recent U.S. intelligence reports.

“The Iranian leadership earlier this month ordered militants from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, along with Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, to Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states are seeking to defeat an insurgency led by Houthi rebels that currently control large parts of the country.

“The influx of Iranian forces was outlined in several classified intelligence reports circulated within government over the past two weeks, said U.S. officials familiar with the reports.”

Reuters – October 20, 2016
“Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, U.S., Western and Iranian officials tell Reuters… We are aware of a recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border,” a Western diplomat familiar with the conflict told Reuters… A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May, referring to weapons, training, and money.
“The nuclear deal gave Iran an upper hand in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia, but it needs to be preserved,” the diplomat said.

“Washington’s Gulf allies have warned that U.S. President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Tehran through the landmark nuclear deal signed last year will only embolden Iran in conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.”

Al-Arabiya English – January 15, 2017
“A Houthi militia leader has confessed that both Iran and Hezbollah have been heavily involved in training their fighters… He said that there were Iranian experts and Lebanese from Hezbollah militias currently in Saada helping run secret training facilities.”

War on the Rocks – June 1, 2017
“… an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officer, known by his nom de guerre “Abu Ali,” led a 52-man Houthi armored assault convoy armed with Katyusha missile launchers out of the northern Yemeni governorate of Sa’ada, and into Saudi Arabia’s Asir border province. Their aim was to conduct a series of early morning raids.

“The slain IRGC commander, “Abu Ali,” was known for leading prior Houthi raids against Saudi Arabia and providing training and operational supervision for the Hussein Brigades, an elite Houthi ground unit in northern and central Yemen.

“Iran’s support for the Houthi insurgency has exacerbated the Yemen conflict and triggered an explosive reaction from the Gulf States and especially Saudi Arabia.”

Associated Press (The Guardian) – December 14, 2017
The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, submitted a report to the security council saying that there was evidence that Iran was supplying ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in defiance of UN resolution 2231, and that the UN was investigating.

The Guardian – December 14, 2017
The US has presented evidence that officials said proved that Iran had supplied short-range ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen which were then fired at Saudi Arabia.

The Jerusalem Post – August 21, 2018
“Report: IRGC officer confirms helping Houthis fire rockets at Saudis”
“Iran not only supported Yemen’s Houthis with weaponry but gave them directives to attack two Saudi Arabian oil tankers on July 25, [2018].
“[The IRGC officer] also said in the interview that the Yemen Houthis, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, are part of the long-arm of Iran.

Sky News Arabia – September 2, 2018
Footage of Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeting a UN aid truck


Al-Arabiya English – January 19, 2019
“Fuel is being shipped illegally from Iran to Houthi militias in Yemen to finance their war against the government, according to a report by a UN panel of experts seen by AFP… In a previous report, the experts said they were investigating monthly fuel donations from Iran valued at $30 million.”

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – February 13, 2020
“…the report documents Iran’s efforts to help the rebels acquire advanced missiles, weapons components, and training… the Houthis continue to receive off-the-shelf parts for their drones and missiles via a network of intermediaries, as well as complete systems (including Iranian weapons) overland via Oman and by sea along Yemen’s southern coast.
“The UN panel’s findings confirm longstanding concerns that Iran has been violating the international embargo by supplying the Houthis with advanced weaponry and high-tech components for their indigenous systems… Finally, all of these examples highlight the importance of October 2020. That is the date of expiration for the current arms restrictions placed on Iran by the nuclear deal, potentially giving the regime a freer hand in exporting its weapons and further destabilizing the region.”

The Jerusalem Post – March 8, 2021
Saudi Arabia’s defense ministry spokesman on Monday accused Iran of smuggling missiles and drones to Yemen’s Houthi movement, which has stepped up cross-border attacks on the kingdom.

The National – April 24, 2021
“Iran supplied Yemen’s Houthi rebels with weapons technology that helped the militants to attack Saudi Arabia, according to Rostam Ghasemi, a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s former economy minister.”

Associated Press – May 9, 2021
“The U.S. Navy announced Sunday it seized an arms shipment of thousands of assault weapons, machines guns and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea, apparently bound for Yemen to support the country’s Houthi rebels.

“An American defense official told The Associated Press that the Navy’s initial investigation found the vessel came from Iran, again tying the Islamic Republic to arming the Houthis despite a United Nations arms embargo. Iran’s mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Tehran has denied in the past giving the rebels weapons.”


Center for Strategic & International Studies – December 21, 2021
The number of Houthi attacks against predominantly civilian targets in Saudi Arabia doubled over the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, according to new CSIS analysis. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah have played a critical role in providing weapons, technology, training, and other assistance to the Yemen-based Houthis. In response, the United States needs to provide Saudi Arabia additional aid to defend the country against stand-off attacks.

The Wall Street Journal – January 18, 2022
Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen used advanced missiles and drones to target the United Arab Emirates on Monday, according to people briefed on the investigation—a deadly demonstration of the expanding threat to Middle East security posed by Tehran’s emboldened allies.

Reuters – January 24, 2022
“Yemen’s Houthi movement, aligned with Iran, launched a missile attack at the United Arab Emirates on Monday that targeted a base hosting the U.S. military but was thwarted by U.S.-built Patriot interceptors, U.S. and Emirati officials said.

CNBC – Jan 31, 2022
“The United Arab Emirates says it has intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile that was fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels over an uninhabited area in the early hours of Monday morning.

Reuters – February 6, 2022
“Medium range ballistic missiles that were fired from Yemen and entered UAE were not invented, built, designed in Yemen,” CENTCOM General Frank McKenzie said. “All that happened somewhere else. So, I think we certainly see the Iranian connection to this.”

The Trump administration designated the Houthis as a “Foreign Terrorist organization.” The Biden administration, in its first weeks in office, revoked this designation in a move criticized by many as an incentive to the Iranian regime.

There is no doubt that the Houthis in Yemen are one of the Iranian regime’s main proxy groups in the Middle East, through which the mullahs pursue their policies of exporting terrorism and fundamentalism. The international community needs to adopt a firm policy to confront the Iranian regime as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

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