Since 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched its intervention in Yemen, the Houthi movement has deepened its ties with Iran and grown more powerful on the ground. As a result, the impact of the Iranian-Houthi partnership will increasingly be felt beyond Yemen’s borders. As I have argued elsewhere, the Houthis are now developing their own foreign policy, forming direct ties with other Iranian partners in the region and presenting a growing risk to rivals like Saudi Arabia and, eventually, Israel. In recent years, some of the most alarmist coverage of the Houthi movement has presented the group in simplistic terms as an Iranian proxy inside Yemen. In fact, the partnership is more complex than a patron-proxy one, but it still carries real risks for regional security.

A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

While the Houthi movement emerged as an insurgency in northwestern Yemen in the 1980s and 1990s, it most likely began receiving Iranian support around 2009. Yet this initial support was marginal, as Yemen at the time was far from an important priority for Iran. Relations ramped up after 2011 as street protests and elite infighting caused an already fragile Yemeni state to weaken even more. Exploiting this vacuum, the Houthis expanded their power and eventually took over the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. These evolving local dynamics piqued Iran’s interest: Saudi Arabia was increasingly anxious at the prospect of mounting insecurity on its vulnerable southern border, while the Houthis were becoming more powerful. Nevertheless, through 2014, Iran’s role in the growth of Houthi power remained limited.

The major turning point came in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen, officially to roll back the Houthis and return the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. The intervention has since become an unmitigated disaster: It is a quagmire from which Saudi Arabia has proved unable to extricate itself, even as the Houthis emerged as the dominant actor in Yemen.

Source: War On The Rocks

Also Read: Iran sending more weapons to Yemen’s Houthis amid cease-fire effort: Pentagon

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