EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: An integral part of its sustained drive for regional hegemony, Tehran’s backing of the Houthis in Yemen, like its support for Syria’s Assad regime, is to build naval bases, gain control of strategic international waterways, terrorize Sunni populations, and turn local Shiite forces into its own private paramilitary groups to be used in special operations and terrorist attacks around the world. The Houthis are following Iran’s Hezbollah model and have gained the world’s sympathy through propaganda even as they engage in ruthless attacks on civilians both at home and in Saudi Arabia.
Yemen plays an important role in Tehran’s plan to dominate the Middle East, with the effort to establish a land corridor from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea via Iraq and Syria mirrored in a parallel drive to gain control of the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait through sustained support for the Houthi rebels in a protracted war that has exacted massive civilian casualties.
This war has reached a military stalemate between the Arab Coalition (which includes the Saudi-backed Yemeni government security forces and the Anti-Terror Quartet, or ATQ, which consists of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) and the Houthis. Tensions have been exacerbated by internal differences involving Riyadh’s backing of the Hadi government vs. UAE-backed separatist groups. These tensions have threatened the government and made the job of the allies even more complicated.