Iran Warned Houthis Against Yemen Takeover
By Ali Watkins, Ryan Grim and Akbar Shahid Ahmed
April 21, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "HP"
-WASHINGTON -- Iranian representatives discouraged Houthi rebels from taking the
Yemeni capital of Sanaa last year, according to American officials familiar with
intelligence around the insurgent takeover.
The seizure of the capital in September came as a surprise to
the international community, as Houthi rebels demonstrating outside Sanaa
realized the city was abandoned and effectively unguarded. Despite Iran's
advice, the Houthis walked into the city and claimed it.
The newly disclosed information casts further doubt on claims
that the rebels are a proxy group fighting on behalf of Iran, suggesting that
the link between Iran and the Yemeni Shiite group may not be as strong as
congressional hawks and foreign powers urging U.S. intervention in Yemen have
U.S. lawmakers and Gulf state leaders who are skeptical of the
nuclear negotiations with Iran have pointed to the Houthis' rise to power in
Yemen as more evidence of Iran's unhelpful expansionary objectives in the
region. But the news that Iran actually opposed the takeover paints a more
complicated picture. As the regime in Tehran has signaled, the Iranians are not
unhappy to see their Gulf rivals embroiled in conflict in their neighborhood,
but their advice against seizing Sanaa suggests that controlling Yemen is at
best a secondary priority for Iran, far behind relief from sanctions that could
come with a successful nuclear pact.
On the other hand, the revelation that the Houthis directly
disobeyed Iran gives credibility to the White House's argument that Iran is not
directing the rebels, who follow a different branch of Shiite Islam than Iran's
leaders and are believed to care more about corruption and the distribution of
power in Yemen than the spread of Shiite influence across the Middle East.
"It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command
and control over the Houthis in Yemen," Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the
National Security Council, told The Huffington Post.
U.S. intelligence officials have warned for months that
Yemenís chaos is a civil war, not a battleground for regional conflict between
Iran and the Sunni-ruled Gulf states. They continue to
challenge the narrative pushed by Sunni nations, led by Saudi Arabia, who
have blasted the Houthi surge and accused the U.S. of abandoning Yemen to a
"It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for
Iran,Ē a U.S. intelligence official told The Huffington Post.
The Obama administration has recently found itself under
renewed pressure to accept the Gulf narrative about the Houthi-Iran connection.
In March, the Gulf Cooperation Council -- which comprises Saudi Arabia, the
United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman -- made clear that it
would act based on that understanding when it began launching airstrikes against
Houthi targets in Yemen. The Saudi-led intervention began just days before a
vital deadline for the international diplomatic effort to rein in Iranís nuclear
program, and analysts interpreted it as a warning: Even as Sunni Arabs publicly
expressed cautious support for a nuclear deal with Iran, they showed they would
not shy away from confronting what they see as Iranian expansionism in the
Iran has long provided military and financial support to the
Houthi group, both
before and after the rebels took over Sanaa -- though the exact extent of
that support remains unknown. The Houthis
have said they expect to receive Iranian gasoline and electricity generators
to replace supplies once provided by Saudi Arabia and the West.
While that material support is seen as critical to the rebelsí
successes, U.S. officials suspect that Tehranís influence over the group is
limited to the provision of resources. Senior administration officials
have said the U.S. is aware of Iran's channel of support to the Houthis, and
have cautioned the regime against its continued enabling of the rebel group.
The Iranian government has
condemned the Saudi-led offensive against the Houthis, which has done little
to allay suspicions that Yemen is the latest grab in Iran's quest for regional
power. Still, Iran publicly insists it does not support any foreign intervention
As Yemen has descended further into chaos, Washington has also
quietly backed its Gulf allies in their campaign against the Houthis,
offering logistical, material and intelligence support. U.S. Navy officials
say the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is steaming toward the waters
off Yemen and will join other American ships prepared to intercept any Iranian
vessels carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen. The Navy has
been beefing up its presence in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Arabian Sea
amid reports that a convoy of Iranian ships may be headed toward Yemen to arm
The White House is now preparing to make its most significant
outreach to Iran skeptics in the region. On May 13 and 14, President Barack
Obama will host Gulf leaders in Washington and Camp David. He is expected to
announce a ramped-up U.S. security commitment to the Gulf states that,
according to U.S. and Gulf diplomats who spoke with regional outlet The
National, could take the shape of a NATO-style defense treaty, a nuclear
security umbrella, a non-binding declaration or a promise for greater tactical
cooperation. The president is meeting on Monday with a top leader from the U.A.E,
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
Copyright ©2015 TheHuffingtonPost.com,
Saudi king orders troops to join Yemen
campaign: Saudi Arabia's King Salman has
ordered the country's National Guard -- considered the Kingdom's best trained
and equipped military force -- to join the military campaign against Shiite
rebels in neighboring Yemen.
Sources: US aircraft carrier, fighter
jets shadowing Iranian convoy near Yemen: The
USS Theodore Roosevelt is not only tracking the convoy, but also launching
F/A-18 Hornets to conduct "manned reconnaissance" of the estimated nine ships in
the Iranian convoy.