The Long Hand of Iran (and Qatar) in Yemen


By Souad Sbai

The Shiite Houthi militias unleashed a civil war in Yemen three years ago. First, they tried to take control of the whole country with a coup d’état and later they sought to destabilize it with their guerrilla warfare. The hand behind all this is apparent. It is Iran, which is trying to destabilize the entire region supported by Qatar.

Three years have passed since the Houthi militias – financed and backed  by Iran along with Qatar, Tehran’s junior partner in the region – began the coup d’état in Yemen. However, the coup has not fully succeeded, as the Houthis were able to take control only of a part of the country, while the government forces and the allies of the Arab Coalition are regaining new pieces of territory day after day. For example, the city of Al Hudaydah, a Houthis’ stronghold, is about to fall according to Arab media. Iran keeps denying to be behind the Houthi militias, with Doha’s direct or indirect support, but some elements contradict Tehran’s stance.

Let’s briefly retrace the various historical stages of the Yemeni issue. The country has long been boiling, since its territory was divided in half for many years: the north was in the hands of the cruel dictator Saleh, while a Democratic Republic was based in the south. When the reunification of the country occurred in 1990, the Houthis (representing the Shiite minority in Yemen) openly supported Saleh, who had already committed unspeakable massacres. At that time, the Houthis were engaged in proselytist activities, and had not created yet an armed militia.

In 2004, their leader, Hussein Al Houthi (hence the present name of the group) was murdered, and from that moment onward the clash with the central government began. In 2012, Saleh was overthrown and later killed by the Houthis themselves for seeking a truce. His position was taken by Mansour Hadi, a man detested by the Houthis. Therefore, the latter intensified their guerrilla and military operations. The conquest of the presidential palace, however, did not led to the demise of the central power.

Yemen, for these and other geographical, climatic, and economic reasons, is one of the poorest countries in the broader Arab region. Therefore, the country is more liable to infiltrations of all sorts, starting with radicalism. The Shiites are opposed to any agreement with the Arab Sunni world, and their armed militias have become one of the many pieces that characterize the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the leading countries respectively of Sunnism and the Shiism in the world.

Another important factor not to be underestimated is that the Houthis continue to categorically refuse to provide any information about the people who died during the raid of the Coalition targeting the Presidential Palace and the Ministries of Defense and Interior in Sana’a. The local media concur that such an obstinate reticence is due to the fact that some of the dead were first and second level leaders of the pro-Iranian militia.

It is no surprise that the Houthis are being used as pawns by Iran, which is playing the card of the aggression and destabilization of the Arab world. This situation has the effect to compound the lack of a government in Italy, because other countries have already taken a position, while Italy cannot. Italy is thus losing the political chance to be involved and play an important role in a crucial dossier, which may seem confined to the Gulf region, but in reality it is much closer to the Mediterranean than we may think.


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