The Houthi-Iran connection 

The regional dynamics are intricate 

On January 18, the leader of Yemen’s Houthi movement, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, spoke on TV about the US-UK airstrikes on Houthi targets and the Biden Administration labeling them as a terrorist organization.

Al-Houthi criticized the designation, linking it to protecting Israel and accused the USA of supporting Israeli actions. He focused on the Houthi alliance with Iran and their stance on regional issues, particularly the Palestinian cause. The Houthis are trying to gain support by emphasizing their opposition to Israel and the USA, deflecting from their local conflicts.

Al-Houthi’s speeches often use emotional language to connect with the audience, portraying the Houthis as fighters against oppression. They strategically use broader Arab and global themes to garner sympathy and support beyond Yemen’s borders, even though their main goal is advancing their own interests within Yemen. In Middle Eastern conflicts, leaders often use bigger regional problems to get people on their side. For example, Saddam Hussein, the former leader of Iraq, talked a lot about the Palestinian struggle to make him look like a defender of their rights. During the Gulf War in 1990-91, he attacked Israel to get support from Arab countries by connecting his government with a cause that mattered to people in the Arab world.

Similarly, Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to explain and get support for his actions. He criticized the USA for supporting Israel and talked about the suffering of Palestinians as a reason for his call to fight. His focus wasn’t really on supporting the Palestinian cause, but more on using a deeply emotional issue to gather support for al-Qaeda’s bigger goals.

Now, the leader of the Houthi movement is also using the Arab-Israeli conflict and the US-Israel alliance to gain support. By connecting these issues, it makes the Houthi actions seem more acceptable to those who care about the Palestinian cause. This strategy helps shift attention away from the immediate problems in Yemen and the issues with Houthi leadership. It might also attract support from people outside Yemen.

The Houthi slogan expresses their beliefs and readiness for conflict with Western powers. They are taking advantage of current tensions to increase their efforts. This slogan not only motivates their followers but also declares their intentions, connecting them to a broader anti-Western sentiment beyond Yemen’s borders. They frame their struggle as resistance against external control.

In their messages, the Houthis establish credibility by presenting themselves as defenders of Yemeni values and marginalized people. They use historical and religious references to align their cause with respected figures and events, asserting authority and appealing to a sense of justice. The Houthi leader urges supporters in the USA and Europe to intensify social media campaigns against airstrikes on Houthi military targets, portraying it as a humanitarian cause to hide their true war-driven agenda.

The relationship between the Houthis and Iran is strong, and understanding this is crucial for creating realistic strategies for peace. It’s important to have a balanced approach to the Houthis, recognizing their involvement in Yemen’s conflict and the wider implications. The focus should be on peace, supporting local efforts for dialogue, and strengthening local governance. 

The impact of Houthi rhetoric on the Yemeni population is complex. It can foster loyalty among those feeling marginalized, creating a sense of unity. However, it can also instill fear by emphasizing external threats, justifying the Houthis’ actions. Their emotionally charged speeches play a role in recruitment, particularly in regions like Hodeidah.

The Houthis criticize Yemen’s government and the PLC, questioning their legitimacy in engaging with international actors. They claim it reflects subservience to foreign interests, notably Israel and the United States. This forms part of their propaganda to position themselves as defenders of Yemeni sovereignty and the Palestinian cause, aiming to erode the legitimacy of the Yemeni government among its people.

In simpler terms, the Houthi movement and Iran share a strong alliance in supporting Palestine and opposing Israel. Iran has a history of backing Palestinian causes and resisting Israeli influence, and this aligns with the Houthi movement’s stance.

The relationship benefits the Houthis strategically, but it primarily serves Iran’s broader goals in the region. Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, emphasize the importance of supporting Palestine and criticize Arab governments normalizing relations with Israel. They also express support for resistance groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, forming what they call the Axis of Resistance.

While this alliance provides advantages for the Houthis, it may lead them into conflicts beyond Yemen, diverting attention and resources from their main objectives. The growing international scrutiny and isolation of the Houthis complicate their position. In response to pressure, the Houthis are likely to use a strategy of buying time while making demands, a tactic they have employed in the past. In essence, the Houthi-Iran alignment serves Iran’s regional ambitions, and the Houthis may face challenges in the long run due to their association. Despite outward appearances, the Houthis are likely navigating a complex interplay of geopolitical realities to safeguard their interests and maintain control.

The Houthis are a group that has a big impact on the politics of different places. They can disrupt shipping and energy markets, making it more expensive and causing problems. The world needs to be careful and pay attention to what they say and do. The Houthis can influence people’s opinions by portraying themselves as victims and being defiant, so it’s important to respond carefully. In the Middle East, Arab nations are trying to be careful in their dealings with the Houthis, who are supported by Iran. The Houthis see themselves as the main force against Israel and believe it is part of their resistance.

The relationship between the Houthis and Iran is strong, and understanding this is crucial for creating realistic strategies for peace. It’s important to have a balanced approach to the Houthis, recognizing their involvement in Yemen’s conflict and the wider implications. The focus should be on peace, supporting local efforts for dialogue, and strengthening local governance. By addressing the issues that make people support the Houthis, like economic problems and lack of services, and by combining security measures with political empowerment, there can be a way to reduce the influence of the Houthis and work towards stability in Yemen and the region.

Dr Muhammad Akram Zaheer
Dr Muhammad Akram Zaheer
The writer has a PhD in Political Science and can be reached at [email protected]

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