Middle East In Focus
Images of Houthi leaders meeting with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon seem to confirm long-standing rumors regarding Hezbollah’s, and by extension Iran’s, involvement in the war in Yemen. The conflict between the internationally-recognized Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, which has seen nearly 50,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands more injured, shows no signs of being resolved anytime soon, though UN efforts aimed at finding a solution continue. But many observers believe that the Houthi/Hezbollah meeting makes the next UN brokered negotiations less likely to yield a positive outcome.
According to Gulf News correspondent Ramadan Al Sherbini, the Houthi-Hezbollah meeting has not gone over well in Saudi Arabia, “which is leading an Arab military coalition in Yemen against Al Houthis, has vowed not to allow the Iran-allied militia to emerge as the country’s replica of Lebanese militant Hezbollah movement. The pledge was made by Saudi Ambassador to US Khalid Bin Salman, who accused Iran of smuggling weaponry to Al Houthis and providing them with Hezbollah military trainers.... The Saudi diplomat said that the evidence confirms “ideological and military” links between Al Houthis, Hezbollah and Iran, which he accused of prolonging Yemenis’ plight and threatening neighbours and regional security.”
Writing for Asharq Alawsat, Badr Al-Qahtani notes that others in the region, including Yemeni political writer Abdullah Ismail, have been critical of the meeting: “A meeting in Beirut between Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and the spokesman of Houthi militias, Mohammed Abdul Salam, raised a wave of criticism targeting Hezbollah, Lebanon, as well as the United Nations.... ‘The visit of Abdul Salam to Hassan Nasrallah has a clear link with the Houthi project within the Iranian axis. He also wants to send a message that there is a political supporter, Iran, and this move is the result of leniency by the United Nations’, says Yemeni political writer Abdullah Ismail. ‘The militias are moving in the direction of the consultations without any significant pressure, as there is a kind of inaction by the United Nations towards them… and no one puts pressure on them’, he added.”
Commenting on the sight of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah sitting next to the Houthi leaders, the National editorial staff concluded that the image “confirmed what many in this region already know: that via its proxies, the Iranian regime is joining the dots in its bid to build a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut and destabilise the region in the process. It is deeply concerning that the two groups are aligning interests, ahead of UN talks that aim to bring peace and prosperity to Yemen, not further chaos.... At this watershed moment, as the date of talks approaches, this unholy alliance is an omen of mal-intent. Attempts by the Houthis to establish a presence in Lebanon or to replicate the Hezbollah model within Yemen will threaten the region’s security still further and destroy hopes for peace for Yemenis, who must be served better.”
In a recent op-ed, Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar'el argues that the continuing support provided by the Iranian government via its regional proxies may be the real reason why the Houthis have been able to hold out for so long against the Saudi-backed pro-government forces: “There’s no dispute that Iran is arming the Houthis with relatively sophisticated weapons, including missiles that have hit Saudi Arabia, ships in the Red Sea and even the Abu Dhabi airport. Iran also apparently seeks to set up a military arm in Yemen similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and an unknown number of Hezbollah troops are actually fighting alongside the Houthis, training them in combat methods and ferrying arms to them.... But the Yemeni theater has long since turned into a war of prestige, in which the two regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are trying to reap a political victory for themselves at the Yemenis’ expense.”
Joshua Block makes a similar argument in his commentary for the Jerusalem Post, while pointing fingers at what he sees as a highly ineffective UN monitoring program which was intended to prevent any such covert Iranian and Hezbollah military support for the Houthi rebels: “The Houthis can wage this campaign of aggression only because of the support they receive from their Iranian masters. The Houthis are a desert tribe. They previously had neither access to nor training in sophisticated weapons. It is clear that the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM), which provides clearance for commercial shipping to Houthi-controlled territory, has failed to stop the flow of illicit arms to the rebels. Since the war broke out and the Houthis unseated the legitimate government of Yemen, the group has received training, expertise and weapons from Iran and Hezbollah.”