Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen follow the example of Hezbollah

Yemen is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world after the Houthi rebel movement took advantage of the instable political transition in the country and seized control of northern Saada province and neighbouring areas in 2014 and later of the capital Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab states intervened in the conflict on behalf of Yemen’s president Hadi in an attempt to restore the country’s legitimate government and this is when fighting began.

After the peace talks in Sweden, which took place in mid-December, the world was left hoping that the Houthi rebels would respect the fragile agreement between them and Yemen’s internationally recognised government. The implementation of the agreement aims at improving the situation in war-torn Yemen. This is a big step towards a negotiated peace.

The other scenario is for the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels to continue applying the practices of Hezbollah, which have been applied across the Middle East, leading to the destabilization of the region. This is the case in Lebanon, where Hezbollah paves the way for Iranian course of action by obstructing the formation of a national unity government, and most recently in Yemen where Houthi rebels follow their example.

Since the conflict started in 2015 the Houthi rebels have used tactics from the Hezbollah handbook, which have led to a society shaken by insecurity. By embedding them among the civilians, Houthis succeed in intimidating entire communities. Using civilians as shields by militarizing a hospital, as we have witnessed it happening in Yemen, is also a known tactic used by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Nikki Haley unveils previously classified information at Joint Base Anacostia in Washington DC on Thursday. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The Houthi rebels have already shown what they are capable of, by attacking the capital of Saudi Arabia through firing Burkan-2H ballistic missiles, which according to analysts are based on Iranian missile models Qiam1/Scud-C and Shahab-2/Scud-C. It comes as no surprise that what connects Houthis and Hezbollah is namely Iran. A country which helps both groups with funds and weapons. Estimates of Iran’s financial aid for Hezbollah vary between USD 60-200 Million annually. In Yemen, armed drones and kornet anti-tank missiles, weapons possessed by Iran but not by Yemen, have been reported on the battlefield. Furthermore, rock-looking roadside bombs which have been seen in Yemen, are very similar to those used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Notable is also the rhetoric of the Houthi rebels incorporated in their speeches, which again reminds of Hezbollah. It is conveniently echoing the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitude of Iran. The Houthi slogan “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam”, which is integral part of their propaganda, was stamped on public university student and staff IDs in October and started circulating on social media. Similarities can be found also in the appearance and mannerisms of Abdul Makik al-Houthi and those of Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese group’s leader.

After the United States listed both the political and military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, in 2013 the European Union also designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and events in the past years lead to the conclusion that the Houthi rebels should also be considered as such. US administration is already discussing a designation of the Houthi rebels a terrorist organization. Although it will take time to officialize this, working in this direction will have an impact on the involvement in and influence on the negotiations by the international community. Thus, a “Hezbollahisation” of the region can be avoided.

While the areas, occupied by the Houthis, are controlled with violence and tyranny, it is obvious that letting them continue dominating in vast parts of the country’s territory is unacceptable. The world’s worst humanitarian crisis, as described by the UN, can get even more complicated if the rebels tighten their grip on Yemen, which would mean that the influence of Iran will increase. It is about time to stop neglecting the participation of Iran in this war. The Islamic Republic aligned-Houthis must be stopped at all costs.