Iran’s role in the crisis in Yemen and its interests in it have been a controversial issue from the very beginning of the war in Yemen. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has sought to return to the forefront of the geopolitical scene with a view to the proliferation of its Shia ideology of the world – which raises a significant question mark on its mission in Yemen.
The Yemen war is ongoing from the spring of 2015. That same year in September, Houthi rebels first invaded the capital Sanaa. Many Yemenis have described this as a coup d’état against the legitimate internationally recognized government of the country. The Houthis were able to seize the capital in a few days thanks to Iran, which continues to provide support to the Houthi rebels despite UN sanctions.
Iran categorically denies to have been arming the Houthis in Yemen. But according to a UN report, the rebels continue to be equipped with ballistic missiles and drones similar to weapons made in Iran. Recently, the Houthi rebels launched a spectacular drone attack against the Loyalist army in the south of the country, at a time when the UN is asking the belligerents for real progress towards peace. This same Qasef-1 drone is almost identical to Iran’s Qbabil-T drone. Coincidence?
Providing the Houthis with weapons is in line with the logic of the proliferation of Iranian ideology. In February 2014, during a meeting with the Iranian armed forces, the head of the Qods forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) explained the motivation behind Iran’s strategy in the region, known as the “Shiite Crescent”. He therefore announced – “The Shiite Crescent is not political, but it is in fact an economic crescent, with Shia holding 80% of the world’s oil in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Iran”.
His assertion announces the basis of the conflict in Yemen. Certainly, without understanding the fundamental reason for the Houthi offensive, it is almost impossible to bring peace to Yemen – any plan to end the war without putting pressure on Iran to break up Al-Quds forces is likely to fail, as we have seen since the conflict began. As a result, it is questionable whether Houthis would have become an organized military militia without the support of the GRI Qods forces.
Today, Iran is subject to sanctions from the United States and the EU. In addition to that, the Iranian government is under constant pressure from its own Iranian people. Following these events, Iran can no longer continue to arm and sponsor Houthis as before. The Islamic Republic must focus on its own economic problems. The situation is getting more and more complicated. The Houthi rebels have suffered failure after failure and have therefore been pushed to show a willingness to participate in the peace negotiations in Sweden last December. It was therefore a first step forward after many attempts at negotiations. But despite all these facts, we continue to witness military attacks.
Last December, following peace consultations in Sweden, a bitterly negotiated agreement was reached between the belligerents to withdraw from the port of Hodeida city. And yet, despite the agreement, clashes quickly took over. The ceasefire violations by the Houthis are increasing. It is therefore difficult to imagine that they are really seeking a solution to the conflict, knowing that the essential element of Iran’s strategy is to expand their Shiite influence. The latest event that attests to the lack of will for lasting peace from Houthis’ side is the drone attack on January the 10th against the Loyalist army in southern Yemen. An attack, killing six soldiers and injuring several others.
This is not the first time when the Islamic Republic has used such a strategy. Iran is seeking to take advantage of the upheavals in the Arab world. It has already sought to impose its influence elsewhere, such as in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and also in Palestine – divided and unstable countries. Why believe that Iran’s intentions towards Yemen are different this time? Knowing that Iran’s goal is to establish a Shia Crescent in the long term, it will be difficult to end the war in Yemen as long as the Islamic Republic takes sides in the war.
It is crucial to put pressure on Iran to dismantle its Qods forces, as this is the key to achieving peace in in Yemen and the region. The wars in the Middle East are part of broader geopolitical tensions and Yemen cannot be treated in isolation from the instability in the rest of the region, to which the Qods forces have much to answer.