Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned Saudi Arabia that it was a mistake to think that the situation in Yemen could be resolved by military force. Calling for a political solution achieved by “direct negotiations” between the warring Yemeni factions, he urged the United Nations to intervene to stop military actions by the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels. The Houthi are a collection of Shia Muslims who have long enjoyed Iranian support. He also denied the presence of Iranian forces or advisers in Yemen.
Amir-Abdollahian rejected American descriptions of actions by Iran as “destabilizing.” He seemed to waver between denying the accusations outright — calling them “unfounded” — and merely objecting to the description by the US State Department that Iranian actions related to Yemen were “destabilizing.” Rather, he suggested, Iran’s intent was to stabilize and bring peace to a war-torn nation. He objected to the meeting between the United States and the United Arab Emirates that occurred on the same day as his remarks. The UAE, he said, should cooperate not with the Americans but with Iran, in the spirit of “neighborliness.”
Iran does seem to be taking a wider interest in its neighbors, as shown by its increase in support to fighters in a number of neighboring countries. In addition to alleged arms shipments and aid to “martyrs” in Yemen, Iran has deployed Quds Force to train Shia militias operating in both Iraq and Syria. Yemeni officials hostile to the Houthis claim that among the Iranian aid to Yemeni fighters has been the materials for making Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs), an armor-penetrating form of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that was used in killing American soldiers in Iraq. Iran denied accusations that it was supplying EFPs to Iraqi Shia militias during that conflict, and supporters of Iran’s claim pointed out that a number of EFP manufacturing facilities had been discovered within Iraq itself. Recently declassified documents from the US military seem to suggest that most EFPs in Iraq were supplied by Iran, however, though those documents also suggest that they were less effective against American armor than has heretofore been assumed.
Reports indicate that Iran has dispatched a large number of paramilitary forces to assist the Houthis in their war, which has successfully displaced the existing government in Yemen. These include both Quds Force members and members of Lebanese Hezbollah according to these same reports. In March the BBC reported that Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani was being dispatched to Yemen citing sources close to Suleimani, although the network later retracted the report following Iran’s release of what it claimed were photographs of Suleimani attending worship services with the Supreme Leader that day.
Iran’s involvement with Yemen’s war was confirmed by the Quds Force deputy commander, Brigadier General Esmail Qa’ani, although his remarks could indicate that the aid was being provided outside of Yemeni territory. “Those defending Yemen,” he said in reference to the Houthis, “have been trained under the flag of the Islamic Republic.” That could mean that they were trained within Iran itself, rather than at camps in Yemen. However, in April Yemeni fighters aligned against the Houthi claimed to have captured two Iranian officers. About the same time, Arab-language news sources reported the departure of Iranian forces from places where they had been fighting in Syria, and speculated that they were being redeployed to the war in Yemen.
Likewise, what are alleged to be classified documents from a Quds Force front organization have been uncovered in Iran, promising robust aid to Houthi fighters and “martyrs.” The documents promise to fulfill “all” the requests made by the Houthis without delay. The organization in question is the Iran Martyrs Foundation, ostensibly a charity run by the office of the Supreme Leader of Iran to assist the families of those killed fighting in Iran’s wars. Extending the same aid to the families of Yemeni fighters would provide both significant support to the Houthis, while also providing a charitable cover for the transfer of other forms of aid.
The connection between Quds Force and the Yemeni rebels does seem to be a feature of the Iranian propaganda that is directed at fighters in neighboring countries. The UK’s Daily Mail published photographs of Shi’ite marchers in Iraq carrying photographs of both Qassem Suleimani and the head of Yemen’s Houthi movement, Abdulmalik al-Huthi. The photographs are several feet across, of high quality and identical size, suggesting that they were both produced by a professional propaganda organization and distributed together. Qassem Suleimani himself proclaimed in May that the Iranian revolution was being exported “throughout the region,” “from Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”
For these reasons, it is unlikely that Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is telling the truth. The bulk of the evidence strongly suggests that Iran is deeply involved militarily in the Yemeni conflict. Here as in the nuclear deal, it is using international institutions like the United Nations and the IAEA to advance its agenda.