The Iranian Role in Yemen and its Implications on the Regional Security


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Mohammad Hassan Al-Qadhi
An Egyptian specialist researcher in regional and Arab Affairs. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Political Sciences Department at the University of Cairo.


The Iranian role in Yemen has always been debatable over its nature, size, and goals. Many years before 2011, there were several indications concerning Iran’s interference in Yemen’s internal affairs via support given to the Houthi rebels in their conflict with the legitimate government in Sana and to some movements in the South to break up with the North of Yemen. The Iranian political and media support to the Houthis and to some movements in Southern Yemen were undeniable, but the military and financial support were doubtful and could not be proven easily. However, this situation has changed since 2011. The Iranian support to rebels in Yemen has become open and its interference in this country increased due to the chaotic conditions that accompanied the Yemeni revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the Ali Saleh regime. These conditions paved the way for Iran to enhance its role and expand its influence in Yemen and many reports and evidences have emerged regarding Iran’s activities and support given to its proxies in this country- mainly the Houthis who come from the same sect and ideology of Iran.
Considering Iran’s focus on the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, Iran looked at Yemen as a key point of interest to strengthen its status in the region and face its rival regional and international powers-especially the United States of America. Hence, Iran strove to play an active role in Yemen, relying hard power represented by pragmatic, sectarian, and ideological considerations and soft power represented by establishing partnership with active non-state players like Hezbollah and the Houthis to adjust the balance of power to enhance its influence in Yemen and in the neighboring regional countries, which have raised concerns about the impact of the Iranian role in Yemen on domestic and regional security.
This study analyzes the Iranian role in Yemen and its impact on regional security based on the following four assumptions:
– There is a negative relationship between Iran’s role in Yemen and regional security. This role goes beyond the usual institutional channels and official relations between Iran and Yemen. Iran relies on non-state players in Yemen by attracting some groups and factions of the same sect and ideology to promote division and instability to change political arrangements and equilibriums.
– The Iranian interference in Yemen- as in other regional countries- has been established on Iran’s security concerns and its desire to maintain its national security by adopting offensive policies to change the balance of power. These policies aim to achieve Iran’s national security interests in a zero-sum equation, which means undermining the security of other countries or the security of the whole region.
– The political vacuum resulting from fragility and weakness of the Yemeni state will pave the way for Iran to expand its influence and achieve its goals in this country. Indeed, Iran aims to enable its proxy groups to take complete control of Yemen or drag the country into more chaos that opens the door for Tehran to expand its influence in Yemen and undermine security and stability in the regional countries.
– The Iranian role in Yemen is not absolute. It is bound by several obstacles and limitations that diminishes its possibility to succeed and achieve all its goals. These limitations are related to the internal conditions in Yemen, while others are related to Iran’s own capabilities.
Based on these assumptions, this study handles the Iranian role in Yemen and its impact on regional security through analyzing eight aspects: 1. The “Concept” that includes a definition of the “Role” and its determinants and “Regional Security” with reference to the negative external interference factor as a threat to security and stability 2. Evolution of Iran’s role in Yemen, knowing that the historic background is the framework of this role. 3. Motives and goals of Iran’s role in Yemen. 4. Tools of the Iranian role in Yemen, including soft power and hard power. 5. The regional and international position towards the Iranian role in Yemen- especially the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. 6. The limitations of the Iranian role in Yemen. 7. The impact of the Iranian role in Yemen on regional security, including the regional balance of power, stability of the social and political structures in the regional neighboring countries, security of the international sea routes, and the growing threat of extremist organizations. 8. The future of the Iranian role in Yemen and possible scenarios.

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Editorial Team