A report released by Critical Threats Project of the American Enterprise Institute, suggests Iran has sent advisers from Shiite proxies, including Afghan forces, to train Houthi units and provide logistical support as part of its efforts to widen its influence in the region.
“The deployment of interoperable proxy forces is part of Iran’s evolution of a form of hybrid warfare that will allow it to project significant force far from its borders and fundamentally alter the balance of power in the region,” the report concluded.
One of the report’s authors, Emily Estelle, noted the presence of Afghan advisers, including osme who had fought in Syria under Quds Force commands, may indicate a change. “This deployment is an early indicator that Iran may be mobilizing its proxy network to conduct hybrid warfare in Yemen as it has in Syria, albeit on a much smaller scale,” said Estelle.
The war in Yemen has continued to escalate, as the Saudi-led allies fight for the Yemen government and the Houthis continue to fight for control and to keep President Hadi out of the country. The Houthis represent a Zaidi Shiite minority and initially launched a series of rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2004.
In 2011, Saleh has forced from power and President Hadi took over. However, Hadi struggled to maintain power, particularly with members of his security forces still loyal to Saleh. Houthi forces took over Sanaa in 2014 and this prompted intervention on a regional level from the Saudi Arabia coalition.
Saleh also threw his support behind the Houthis, in 2015 after the coalition intervened in the country. But Shiite Iran has also had a hand in Yemen. It is believed that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Quds Force have been supplying weapons and technology to the Houthis, including the technology that allowed them to attack a Saudi vessel using a remote-controlled boat.
The Houthis have also gained access to penetrators, a type of armor-piercing projectile, that is being used in improvised explosive devices and which have also been tied back to Iran. Weapons experts detailed how a Yemeni-built Qasef-1 drone shares specifications with an Iranian model and has been used to destroy air-defense put in place by the Saudi-led coalition. According to a recent Conflict Armament Research (CAR) report, “These findings strengthen a body of evidence compiled by CAR, which links weapons captured from Houthi and Saleh-aligned forces to transfers from Iranian national stockpiles.”
CAR has reported drones being smuggled without their nose cones or engines, indictating that different components were being shipped separately.
“The fact that the UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were disassembled while in transit suggests that the Houthis have personnel with technical expertise on UAVs,” said Jonah Leff, a researcher at CAR. “It is unlikely that the Houthis developed this technical know-how and newly employed tactics without foreign support. From a military equipment perspective, Iran seems to be playing a hand.”
The conflict has claimed over 10,000 lives and left the country divided, with the south and east controlled by government forces and the north-west population centers controlled by the Houthi, including the country’s capital.
Famine is a real threat in this country, as two-thirds of the population are classified as “food insecure”, according to Oxfam.
It has also emerged that the U.S. is considering offering additional support to the Saudi-led coalition in the form of intelligence and planning. “We are serious about the livelihoods and futures of our partners in the Middle East, whether it is Israel or Jordan, whether it is the Emirates or Egypt,” said Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Trump. “We are going to allow them, with our help, to do what needs to be done. Only some of that will be about weapons. This is about friendship and commitment.”
Part of the U.S. plan appears to include working closely with their allies in the region and offering training and arms, while at the same time demonstrating a more aggressive stance towards Iranian ambitions across the region.