Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 09:32 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 09:32 | SYDNEY

Yemen: An Iranian under every bed?


Rodger Shanahan


29 October 2009 14:58

To say that Yemen is a country under pressure is an understatement. Battling southern secessionists, a resurgent al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a rebellion in the north from the al-Houthi movement, declining oil reserves and water tables and a growing population, the government certainly has its hands full.
The northern rebellion would largely go unnoticed in the West were it not for the fact that the al-Houthis are Zaydi Shi'a and, as all Arab states would have us believe, there is no Shi'a opposition movement that doesn't have the fingerprints of Tehran all over it. While there is more than a grain of truth in this assertion (Hizbullah being the prime example), Shi'a Islam, like Christianity, contains a broad range of denominations and Zaydism differs significantly from mainstream Shi'ism.

Zaydism is above all about local leadership rather than a centralised authority resident in Tehran, Qum or Najaf, so the likelihood of them dancing to Tehran's tune is remote. Still, the possibility of Iran supporting the Houthis as part of a larger anti-Saudi campaign can't be entirely discounted.
It suits Arab states to draw connections between the al-Houthis and Iran without providing proof because it supports the argument that Iran is an expansionist state that uses Shi'a minorities as stalking horses for Persian interests. Accusations by Sunni states of Iranian complicity in any Shi'a-led protest or uprising is also designed to internationalise the conflict by taking the focus off local grievances which are often the real reason for the conflict.
Last week President Saleh managed to accuse Iranians (though not the Iranian Government) of funding the al-Houthis with a view to creating a Shi'a zone along both sides of the Saudi border. Which makes this story about the seizure of Iranian arms bound for northern Yemen a case of particularly good timing. Naturally, the Iranians deny the reports.

It will be interesting to see this story play out, as a boatload of Iranian weapons on an Iranian ship with Iranian sailors (or instructors, depending on who you believe) will surely be hard to refute if they are presented to the public by the Yemeni authorities. Equally, if the story dies then accusations of Iranian complicity in the conflict will be harder to sustain.

Photo by Flickr user eesti, used under a Creative Commons license.