Politics |

Houthis threaten regional security at Iran's behest

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Members of the Iran-backed Houthi military police parade in the streets of Sanaa on January 8th during 'martyrs' week'. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

During a late-December press conference, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) announced they had expanded their list of targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

According to the announcement, delivered December 29th by Houthi spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, the militia has "expanded its list of offensive military targets to include nine vital sites -- six in Saudi Arabia, and three in the UAE".

This shows the militia is pursuing the interests and agenda of the Iranian regime at the expense of the Yemeni people, Yemen analysts told Al-Mashareq.

When Iran vowed revenge following the January 3rd killing in Baghdad of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Qassem Soleimani, the militia said it would review its operations, in support of Iran.

Despite this show of force, analysts said, the Houthis are in a weak position that has been made weaker by the loss of Soleimani, who directed the IRGC's external relationships, including those with the Houthis in Yemen.

"The Houthis are good at exaggerating their military capabilities," Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies head Abdul Salam Mohammed told Al-Mashareq.

In reality, he noted, "their situation on the ground is currently the worst it has been since they seized the Yemeni army's assets in the 2014 coup".

The militia has sought to exaggerate its military capabilities by claiming attacks such as the September strikes on two Saudi oil facilities, he said, which it is extremely unlikely to have committed.

"It cannot be ruled out that there were other attacks that were carried out or supervised by the Iranians that the Houthis are incapable of pulling off [alone]," he noted.

Iran directs the Houthis

The Houthis' announcement that they have established new targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE "has nothing to do with the Houthis' interests", he said, and merely makes it clear that Iran has been directing the actions of the militia.

"The Houthis in Yemen are receiving training and armament from the IRGC, and therefore they do not make the decision, Iran does," Mohammed said.

Both parties recognise that an attack on Saudi Arabia or the UAE would be "very costly", he said, and that "carrying out attacks in the Gulf could lead to a military confrontation with the US that both countries have long avoided".

"The Houthis value nothing over Iran's interest," political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq, regardless of the harm caused to the Yemeni people.

The war has left 24.1 million people, more than two-thirds of Yemen's population, in need of aid.

The scale of their suffering reveals "the magnitude of the disaster brought on by the Houthis' war and coup against the authority and state institutions", he said.

However, Soleimani's killing will further weaken the Houthis, as the Iranian general oversaw the militia's operations, Ahmed added.

Warning message to Iran

The Houthis' announcement that they have established new military targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is part of a "media war" the militia is waging, political analyst Waddah al-Jalil told Al-Mashareq.

"The Houthis' unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and missile attacks are intended to cover up the failure of their fighters on the fronts," he said.

With the degradation of their military capabilities in the field, the militia is finding in Iranian-manufactured ballistic missiles and UAVs "a more effective means for issuing threats", he said.

"Soleimani's killing came as a warning message [to Iran and its allies] of the risks of their recklessness," al-Jalil said, and can be seen as a direct order to cease all actions through which Iran has tried to expand its influence in the region.

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