The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies has published an article attempting to accurately depict Iran’s involvement in the Yemeni conflict. The author, Farea al-Muslimi, points out that, while Iran is in fact supporting the Houthis in some capacity, the Saudi response has been disproportionate compared to the scale of Iranian commitment. He argues that Iran’s support for the Houthis is an attempt to force the Saudis into yet another conflict, thereby weakening the Saudi government’s military and financial capacity as a whole.
“Iran views Yemen as a low-cost environment to enact attrition against Saudi Arabia. As a Western official formulated it: the Iranians throw a dollar at Yemen, knowing full well that Saudi Arabia would in turn spend 2 million, which means it is a winning battle for Iran according to this standard.”
Al-Muslimi goes on to allay fears that the Houthi movement will eventually become an Iranian proxy not unlike Hezbollah or Hamas. He points to the fundamental ideological differences between the Zaydi sect of Shi’a Islam, a school of thought that “Iran does not seem to appreciate … [and] which is beyond its control and religious authority.” To this end, the Houthi movement will always maintain a significant level of independence from Iran.
The Houthi movement has always been an independent one; not until their rise to power did they begin to receive Iranian backing. Iran seized on an opportunity to rile the Saudis in the north, baiting them into further extending their military and financial resources.
“It is important to realize that Iran’s role in Yemen is basically destructive, as everywhere in the region,” al-Muslimi concludes. “However, the Houthis are also a destructive group, with and without Iran.”