Recent reports indicating that Hizbullah, with the backing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is training Houthis (Ansarallah) in Lebanon are likely to be credible, experts told Al-Mashareq.
Hizbullah previously trained a large number of Houthis in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and Syria's al-Qalamoun region, they said, and now the party is focused on training elite fighters.
These elite forces will in turn train fighters in Yemen, they added, noting that Hizbullah and IRGC also have a notable presence in that country .
Beirut’s southern suburbs, a traditional stronghold of Hizbullah, serve as an incubator for the Houthis and their media outlets, they said.
On February 24th, the government in Yemen said it had physical evidence of "Hizbullah training the Houthi rebels and fighting alongside them".
"This evidence is documented and Hizbullah cannot deny its role in the destruction it is contributing to through the clear moral and logistic support" for the Houthis, government spokesman Rajeh Badi said.
Earlier last year, a Hizbullah commander told the Financial Times, Houthi and Hizbullah fighters trained together for the past 10 years. "They trained with us in Iran, then we trained them here and in Yemen," he said.
In an October 6th report, Saudi newspaper al-Watan revealed that about 10,000 Yemenis in the southern suburbs of Beirut are being equipped and organised, ahead of being enrolled in IRGC-supervised training camps.
According to the report, Iran facilitated the transfer of a number of Yemenis to Lebanon to form the nucleus of a new paramilitary force that will operate in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Additionally, the report said, a 400-member "information agency" directed from Sanaa University in Yemen, including officers of the Yemeni Republican Guard, was sent abroad to be trained in various media-related disciplines.
The Houthis also sent about 3,600 people to an academy in Tehran affiliated with Iran's intelligence agency, under the supervision of Hizbullah and Yemeni Republican Guard officers, the report said, with Yemeni National Security Service head Brig. Gen. Ahmed Nasser Abdullah Musabi verifying this information.
In an October 9th report, Saudi newspaper Okaz said the IRGC oversees the training of an estimated 3,000 Houthi fighters in Syria and Lebanon, with Hizbullah taking part in the training in two camps near Syria's al-Qusayr and Lebanon's Baalbek.
These trainees include "a large number of Yemeni students who were studying in Syrian and Lebanese universities", the Okaz report said.
"At an earlier stage, large numbers of Houthis were trained in Lebanon," a Hizbullah observer who asked to use the pseudonym "Mohammed" told Al-Mashareq, adding that the current training is more "qualitative".
This high-level training is offered to no more than 50 elements per course, he said, "after which they return to Yemen to train large numbers of Houthis".
The training of Houthis in Lebanon is not a secret to anyone, he added.
"The party is capable of conducting the training and is doing so inside Yemen after having trained Houthi military instructors in Lebanon," he added.
Mohammed confirmed the presence of Houthi families and media outlets in Beirut's southern suburbs, including the Houthis' mouthpiece, al-Masira TV, which is based on Mouawad street.
"The party prefers to conduct its training in a certain area in the Bekaa that is hard to reach," he said.
Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah regularly calls in his speeches for support for the Houthi militias, opposing any international approach that targets them in Yemen.
In a recent speech on the occasion of Ashoura, Nasrallah said the Shia holiday will be held under the banner of solidarity with Yemen.
"Ashoura rallies this year shall hold the title of solidarity with and support for the Yemeni people, army, popular paramilitaries and resistance," he said.
Training in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen
"The veracity of the reports of Hizbullah's training of Houthis cannot be confirmed," Liban Message movement president and retired military officer Brig. Gen. Khalil al-Helou told Al-Mashareq.
However, he added, "several well-informed sources have spoken of training of Houthis being conducted by Hizbullah in camps in al-Qalamoun region in Syria and a certain region in the Bekaa in Lebanon".
The presence of Hizbullah trainers also has been observed in Yemen, he said.
Based on his own research and Iran’s regional policy, he said, "upon following the events and Iran’s policy in the region and its intervention in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon , one finds that they emanate from the IRGC".
"Therefore, as long as [the IRGC] directs the military operations in more than one country alongside Hizbullah, the rumoured reports of training of Houthis -- regardless of their number -- in areas in Lebanon and Syria under Hizbullah’s control, are likely true," he said.
"I cannot rule out the matter, especially as the party does not hide it and the IRGC does not conceal its responsibility, nor does it stop boasting of its quest to expand its influence to the Mediterranean, Bahrain and Yemen ," he said.
"Against the backdrop of the rumours about the presence of Houthi elements receiving training in Lebanon, I received information that about a year ago, some of them came and received training on specific weapons at Hizbullah [training] centres," said Ruba Munther, a journalist specialising in terror groups who writes for al-Joumhouria newspaper.
"Today, Hizbullah has experts in Yemen, where they and the IRGC are training the Houthis," she added.