, Volume 92, Number 3

Thomas Juneau
For years, mounting instability had led many to predict the imminent collapse of Yemen. These forecasts became reality in 2014 as the country spiralled into civil war. The conflict pits an alliance of the Houthis, a northern socio-political movement that had been fighting the central government since 2004, alongside troops loyal to a former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, against supporters and allies of the government overthrown by the Houthis in early 2015. The war became regionalized in March 2015 when a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of ten mostly Arab states launched a campaign of air strikes against the Houthis. According to Saudi Arabia, the Houthis are an Iranian proxy; they therefore frame the war as an effort to counter Iranian influence. This article will argue, however, that the Houthis are not Iranian proxies; Tehran’s influence in Yemen is marginal. Iran’s support for the Houthis has increased in recent years, but it remains low and is far from enough to significantly impact the balance of internal forces in Yemen. Looking ahead, it is unlikely that Iran will emerge as an important player in Yemeni affairs. Iran’s interests in Yemen are limited, while the constraints on its ability to project power in the country are unlikely to be lifted. Tehran saw with the rise of the Houthis a low cost opportunity to gain some leverage in Yemen. It is unwilling, however, to invest larger amounts of resources. There is, as a result, only limited potential for Iran to further penetrate Yemen.

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