For years, mounting instability had many predicting the collapse of Yemen. These forecasts became reality in 2014 when years of accumulated tension pushed the country into civil war. On one side is an alliance of the Houthis, a northern movement that has been fighting the government since 2004, and troops and militias loyal to a former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. On the other side are supporters of the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was overthrown by the Houthis in early 2015.
The war intensified in March 2015 when a coalition of 10 states led by Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of airstrikes against the Houthi-Saleh coalition. Riyadh’s declared objectives are to roll back the Houthis and reinstate Hadi. Saudi Arabia claims that the Houthis are an Iranian proxy, leading it to frame the war as an effort to counter Iran’s influence. The Saudis are not the only ones to label the Houthis puppets of Iran. Politicians and media in the West, in particular, also frequently describe them as Iranian proxies.
Yet as I argue in a recent article in the May 2016 issue of International Affairs, the Chatham House journal, Tehran’s support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is marginal. It is simply inaccurate to claim that the Houthis are Iranian proxies.