August 24, 2019 | Axios

Iran sees growing dividends from support for Yemen’s Houthis

August 24, 2019 | Axios

Iran sees growing dividends from support for Yemen’s Houthis

Iran’s partnership with the Houthi rebels in Yemen — heralded this week by a hardline Iranian newspaper as “the battle of destiny in the south” — has become one of its most successful campaigns across the Middle East.

Why it matters

At surprisingly little cost to Tehran, the Houthis have waged a drawn-out war straining the coffers and reputation of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival. The conflict has also afforded Tehran a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula, allowing it to threaten maritime traffic on the Red Sea.

Where it stands

In exchange for Iranian weaponry, the Houthis have raised funds for Iran’s increasingly cash-strapped proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah; persecuted members of the Baha’i faith; targeted U.S. assets; and even praised Iran’s supreme leader while seeking diplomatic relations.


The Houthi movement is an insurgent force that seized the Yemeni capital in 2014, ousted the national government and has since battled a Saudi-led military coalition.

  • The Houthis are of the Zaydi or “fiver” sect of Shiite Islam — distinct from Iran’s Khomeinist interpretation of Twelver Shiism — but those differences have not deterred growing political and material support from Tehran.

Between the lines

While not every missile in Yemen is Iranian, Iran has become the most significant foreign force multiplier for Houthi missile capabilities since the war began.

The bottom line

Increasingly, Houthi attacks — whether by missile or drone — can be read not as mere combat, but as part of Iran’s broad backlash against the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign and the posture of Iran’s Saudi rivals.

  • The longer the conflict on the Arabian Peninsula rages, the more the Houthis will deepen their partnership with Tehran.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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