May 7, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Is Hezbollah working more closely with the Houthis?

Hezbollah now plays a greater role in deciding where the Houthis allocate funds.
May 7, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Is Hezbollah working more closely with the Houthis?

Hezbollah now plays a greater role in deciding where the Houthis allocate funds.

A report in Al-Ain media in the UAE claimed to reveal an interesting development in Yemen. According to the report, Hezbollah has “confiscated” funds in Yemen from the Houthis and is playing a role in that country. The report leaves many questions and is impossible to confirm, but it likely exposes some details that are worth analyzing.

First of all, it reflects concern in the UAE and the Gulf about the Houthis’ increased ties to Iran and other Iranian proxies and that the Houthis are being operationalized to do proxy work for Iran.

Iran has been actively backing the Houthis in their war on Saudi Arabia since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and other countries intervened in Yemen to prevent the Houthis from taking Aden. There has been a ceasefire in Yemen since 2022, and Saudi Arabia and the Houthis appeared to be on track toward peace because, with China’s backing, Riyadh and Tehran were patching things up. Now the Houthis have directed resources toward joining Hamas in the war against Israel.

The Houthis are playing their role by attacking ships. This raises concerns about how Iran may use the Houthis in the future.

Behind ‘Abu Radwan’

The Al-Ain report says the news organization has learned that the Houthi militias received “directives from Hezbollah to allocate the largest portion of the financial revenues it earns from the Yemeni governorates in the north to military operations and military industrialization.” Hezbollah in Lebanon apparently now supervises some of what the Houthis are doing and works as a “mastermind” behind operations. “The sources revealed that Hezbollah addressed the militia leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, by transferring the process of managing the financial resources that the Houthi militias earn from revenues, royalties and taxes from areas under their control to a special committee headed by one of Hezbollah’s experts present in Sanaa, whose nickname is ‘Abu Radwan.’”

The name Abu Radwan, if it’s not a made-up name, is possibly linked to Hezbollah’s Radwan Force, which is portrayed as the group’s elite unit. The Radwan Force takes its name from the late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was known as al-Hajj Radwan. This was his “war name” or nom de guerre. The fact that a mysterious man in Yemen who is linked to Hezbollah has taken on the name Abu Radwan is entirely plausible, but it’s only plausible in the context of knowing who the original Hajj Radwan was and what is meant by Radwan in the Hezbollah lingo.

The article claims that Abu Radwan in Yemen is now “supervising the revenues of the communications and internet sector under the control of the Houthis.” Not only that, but he has done this for years, and he was linked to Hezbollah for years. He is “directly linked to the leadership of Hezbollah and experts from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to finance military activities and arming the militias.”

Hezbollah now plays a greater role in deciding where the Houthis allocate funds. Hezbollah now contributes to a committee that determines the allocation of financial resources and “how the process of military spending and armament will be carried out.” There is some kind of cheeky irony in this story because, according to the article, the source said that the goal of Hezbollah in Sinai is to kind of put the Houthi leadership on a diet of finances, “ending the extensive financial privileges enjoyed by the Houthi leadership, including military and security, drying up corruption, transferring funds for the benefit of military operations, and preparing for any future developments.”

In essence, Hezbollah has been brought in to bring some austerity here and clean up the Houthi books. The Houthis are like one of those large corporations seen in Office Space, where an efficiency expert asks, “What exactly do you do here”? At the same time, it appears that Hezbollah has sought to squeeze the populace by sending taskmasters out to farm more money for the bosses in Sanaa. “The sources confirmed that Hezbollah asked the Houthi militias to intensify the financial collection process and raise the rates of customs, taxes, port fees and communications costs by no less than 40% during the coming months until the end of the current year.”

AND IT gets worse, if you’re a Yemeni who thought peace might bring a peace dividend. It turns out Hezbollah wants a 70/30 split in terms of where the money goes: 70% for guns and only 30% for food. This “guns or butter” equation is not in favor of what is good for Yemen. However, the article reveals the reason for this squeeze. It turns out that the Houthis are not getting so much money from Iraq or Iran, or perhaps Hezbollah is not getting so much from Iraq and Iran. A new “council of experts” has been formed in Sana’a, which has been “granted absolute powers for military and security decisions, controlling even the civilian sector, carrying out bombing or targeting operations inside and outside Yemen’s borders, and even naval attacks against cargo ships.”

According to the report, this council is now in charge of military operations, and the Houthi defense ministry has been sidelined. If true, it points to Iran’s IRGC outsourcing some operations in Yemen to Hezbollah. It’s not the first time that reports mention Iran’s IRGC playing a role in overseeing Houthi actions, but it is the first time that Hezbollah’s part has appeared so prominent. It is also known that in early October, after Hamas’s attack, the Houthis created a “joint operations room” to coordinate with the rest of the Iranian axis to threaten Israel. Now it seems it has grown into this “council” and taxation committee.

If the report is accurate, then it spells more trouble in the region as Hezbollah grows in its role within the Iranian hierarchy.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism