Houthis are targeting Saudi Arabia

10 m.   |  2019-11-07

T he Houthi movement began in Yemen in 1990s. The name of the movement derives from the Yemeni Houthi tribe (the so called Yemeni Hamdainds), who belong to the Zaydi school of Shiite Islam [1],[2]. The Houthis mainly reside in the north of Yemen [3]. According to statistics, the Houthis are about 30% of the country’s population (overall population is around 25 bil.) [4], with the majority of which are Sunnis.

Since the 2000s, the Houthis began an armed struggle against the Yemeni government. In 2004, the fighters of the movement lead by Hussein al Houthi launched a campaign agasinst the government accusing the Sunni authorities of religious discrimination [5],[6].

The experts find that the conflict is not religiously based, or is not religious-ideological (Sunni-Shiite), as not all the Houthis are Shiite Muslims [7]. It is a military-political struggle, which covers the whole of the Middle East with the elements of a Proxy War [8].

The Houthis also demand autonomy in Sana’a capital city along with the northern districts of the same province [9].

Saudi Arabia and Iran are directly involved in this conflict and are actively battling for the  establishment of sovereignty in the Greater Middle East region. The mediated war between Tehran and Riyadh [10] has especially intensified over the last decade. It’s known as the Iran-Saudi Arabia Cold War or the Middle East Cold War [11].

Yemen is not the only flashpoint of the confrontation in the war between Tehran and Riyadh. They is also fighting in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and in the Palestinian front. According to the experts, Tehran’s influence in this conflict is still tangible [12]. 

In 2009, Saudi Arabia, being concerned about the domestic political situation in a neighboring country, supported the Yemeni Government forces to suppress the Houthis rebellion [13]. The clashes continued until February 2010, when a ceasefire agreement was signed between the sides [14].

Source https://tass.ru/info/1709704

The Arab Spring wave, in its turn, brought a new impetus to the armed struggle of the Houthis. The beginning of 2011 was marked by the start of the Yemeni Revolution of Dignity. Thousands of demonstrators on the streets of Sana’a, were complaining about unemployment, social-economic conditions and widespread corruption [15].

The resignation calls for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power since 1978 replaced the preliminary demands set forth in demonstrations [16],[17]. On November 23, 2011 President Saleh signed a deal [18],[19] on transferring his powers to the Vice President of the country Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi in the capital city of Saudi Arabia Riyadh. However, tensions continued with clashes between Sunni groups enjoying government support and the Houthis in the following years.

Source https://www.ibtimes.co.uk

In 2015, the Houthis occupied numerous state institutions of Yemen, including the presidential residence, as a result of which the president and the prime minister of the country resigned [20], and the parliament was dissolved. Moreover, there were talks about forming an agreement between the opposing political teams, according to which Yemen would become a federal state and the Houthis would also be represented in the government [21].

On March 25, 2015 a coalition was formed led by Saudi Arabia and with the participation of Arabian countries in the region. It carried out an air raid called a “Sharp Storm” in Yemen, by disregarding international law.

In the beginning of 2018, the Houthis could take control of most of the city Arden which is of strategic importance. This is where the Yemeni government headquarter is located [22]. In the middle of 2019, Yemeni government forces succeeded in taking back the presidential residence of Aden from the Houthis [23].

Port of Aden

S audi Arabia places great importance on the strategic and transit significance of Yemeni ports and its coastal areas, which are next to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The international trade-economic and oil link passes through this point [24]. The security of world freight transport through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is of primary importance for the smooth running of the Suez Canal.

Port of al-Hudaydah

T he Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. 3.8-4.8 mil. barrels of oil products are transported through the strait daily (approximately 17 mil. barrels of oil through the Strait of Hormuz) [25],[26], and more than 60 merchant ships pass through in a day. 12.5-20 percent of global trade passes through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait [27].

The Bab El-Mandeb Strait

The Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is of key importance in the mediated war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. According to various sources, the connection between the Houthis and Tehran is provided by the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The great majority of the Persian Gulf exports travels through the Suez Canal. Therefore, the Yemeni government forces control over the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb can make it difficult for Iran to supply the Houthis with weapons [28].

Within the context of tense relations between the US and Iran, Tehran has repeatedly threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb [29]. At the end of July 2018, Riyadh decided to stop oil supplies through the strait because of the Houthis attacks on Saudi oil tanks passing through the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb [30],[31]. Saudi Arabia, however, restored oil freights passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in August. Washington and Tel Aviv have also expressed their concerns over the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb by Tehran [32],[33]. The Houthis also made statements about the possibility of blocking the Strait, threatening to target the ports of Saudi Arabia [34].

The Yemeni authorities accused the Houthis of fighting against the country’s authorities and trying to seize the power with the support of Tehran. 

In February 2015, the Houthis have reached an agreement with the Iranian authorities on conducting direct flights and the training of civil aviation staff. As a result, the first Iranian relief cargo plane was sent to Yemen [35],[36]. In February 2018, the talks held between the Foreign Minister of Iran and Mohammed Abdul Salam, spokesperson for the Houthi movement, during which they discussed the military-political condition and humanitarian assistance issues in Yemen [37].

Saudi Arabia in its turn accuses the Houthis of being an Iranian proxy group [38]. Relying on intelligence data, Washington expressed concerns that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is arming and training the Houthis  [39],[40].

According to Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia Ambassador to the United States, Iran plays a significant role in supporting the Houthis. “Both Iranian advisers and Hezbollah operatives are advising the Houthis. Iran provides both political and military-economic assistance to the Houthis. The Houthis have modern weapons, including ballistic missiles [41]”.

Iran’s support to the Houthis became apparent since 2011-2012 [42]. In 2014, the Houthi rhetoric (echoing Iranian propaganda) and provocations threatening Saudi Arabia’s security became more frequent.[43]։  

In May 2018, the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia’s capital city [44] just a day after Saudi Arabia’s top Western ally the United States pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran [45].According to the Houthis, the missiles were fired at the objects of economic importance to Riyadh.

In September 2019, the Houthis deployed about 10 drones against the oil sites next to the largest oil facilities in the Abqaiq and Khurais belonging to the Saudi state oil company ARAMCO [46],[47],[48].

Most of the oil produced from the Persian Gulf is processed at this factory in Abqaiq.

Source https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east

As a result, Saudi Arabia reduced the daily oil productions by 50% [49].

Source https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east

Although the Houthis assumed the responsibility for the attacks on Saudi oil production facilities, Washington didn’t hesitate to see Iranian trace in them [50].

Source https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status

Source https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status

  Despite the American sanctions, Tehran is still able to maintain its network impact in the Greater Middle East. Alongside the mediated confrontation with Tel Aviv, Tehran is currently not only able to maintain Tehran-Riyadh power balance, but also to record tangible benefits: the Houthis-Saudi Arabia conflict which is about to enter an active stage, is a vivid evidence of what is said.

[1] http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective

[2] https://tass.ru/info/1709704

[3] https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/yemen-crisis

[4] https://globalvoices.org/2015/04/01

[5] https://tass.ru/info/1709704

[6] https://globalvoices.org/2015/04/01

[7] https://globalvoices.org/2015/04/01

[8] https://globalsecurityreview.com

[9] https://tass.ru/info/1709704

[10] https://carnegie-mec.org/2015/05/04

[11] https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content

[12] https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content

[13] https://tass.ru/info/1709704

[14] https://tass.ru/info/1709704

[15] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news

[16] https://af.reuters.com/article

[17] https://www.reuters.com/article

[18] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News

[19] https://www.youtube.com/watch

[20] http://www.newsru.co.il/mideast

[21] http://newsru.co.il/mideast/21jan

[22] https://ru.euronews.com/2018/01/31

[23] https://ria.ru/20190828/1557999429

[24] https://russiancouncil.ru/analytics

[25] https://www.moroccoworldnews.com

[26] https://www.arabnews.com/node/1346101

[27] https://www.moroccoworldnews.com

[28] https://razm.info/105879

[29] https://gulfnews.com/world/gulf

[30] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen

[31] https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/26

[32] https://aawsat.com/english/home

[33] https://www.timesofisrael.com

[34] https://www.businessinsider.com

[35] https://en.farsnews.com/newstext

[36] https://tass.ru/info/1709704

[37] http://www.xinhuanet.com/english


[39] https://www.reuters.com/article/us

[40] https://www.mei.edu/publications

[41] https://www.reuters.com/article

[42] https://www.mei.edu/publications

[43] https://www.mei.edu/publications

[44] https://www.reuters.com/article

[45] https://www.reuters.com/article/us

[46] https://www.youtube.com/watch

[47] http://theconversation.com/yemens

[48] https://www.youtube.com/watch

[49] https://www.azatutyun.am/a

[50] https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status