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No Longer Hiding Its Influence, Iran Openly Supports Yemeni Rebels

For the first time Iran has said that it supports the Houthi rebels, who control vast swathes of Yemen and recently took its capital. The Houthis can be likened to Hezbollah in Lebanon in that they have moved from fringe Shi’ite militia to major player in the country’s battle for political power.

The admission is the latest clear sign that Tehran’s sphere of influence spreads far beyond its national borders.

Adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader for International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati announced (Persian link) Tehran’s support for the Houthi Ansar Allah organization in its invasion of large areas of Yemen and its control over national institutions there, considering it “an important struggle.”

Velayati did not hide his hope that the Houthis in Yemen will play a role similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This is the most official and explicit confession made by Iran on this issue after years of denials of funding, arming and training the Houthis – although Tehran fell short of confirming it arms the rebels, something regional analysts believe to be the case. In fact, an Iranian official (Arabic link) clarified this week that “the road to Palestine passes through Yemen.”

The Houthis established themselves as Yemen’s new power holders last month, capturing the capital, Sanaa, to little resistance from the weak administration of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Houthi fighters have been making advances outside of Sanaa in recent days, taking over more cities and towns, according to Reuters. Their ascendance has angered al-Qaeda, which views Shi’ites as heretics and the Houthis as pawns of Iran.

While the Houthis’ recent achievements were celebrated in the Iranian media as a “victory for the revolutionaries,” the Arabic press criticized Iran for trying to influence events in Yemen after getting involved in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Commentators in the Arab world believe (Arabic link) that the latest Iranian statements indicate Iran wants to take control of areas in Yemen as it did in Lebanon via Hezbollah.

In Don’t be Fooled. Hezbollah is Bigger and Badder Than Ever, which appeared in the March 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, Shai Oseran and Stéphane Cohen cautioned:

[A]ny negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program must also address its ongoing support of global terror, especially Hezbollah. While it may be convenient for the international community to focus solely on the nuclear issue in hopes of increasing their chances of success, Hezbollah and similar terrorist groups cannot be stopped without depriving them of Iranian backing. Having Iran at the table is the perfect opportunity to make progress on terror as well.

[Photo: Ferdinand Reus / Wiki Commons]