In Bid To Save Nuclear Pact, Iran Pushes Yemen’s Houthi Rebels Into Negotiations
Tehran’s apparent about-face comes as its Yemeni proxy is facing major setbacks in the strategic city of Hodeida
Iran and European Union countries are making headway in talks to end the conflict in Yemen, with Tehran pledging to push for a ceasefire between Houthi Shiite rebels and government forces. The ostensible aim is to ease the humanitarian crisis there, according to officials on both sides, although the apparent breakthrough comes as the Houthis are facing major setbacks in the strategic western port city of Hodeida.
After long refusing to admit its support for the Houthis, Iran acknowledged for the first time last November its links to the group. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, confirmed at the time that Tehran provided advisory assistance to the rebels.
The recent negotiations to end the crisis come after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and voiced growing concern over Iran’s support for terrorist groups in the Middle East. In what many are construing as a concession geared towards saving the atomic pact, Tehran has since agreed to push the Houthis into negotiations to end the conflict that has plagued Yemen since 2014.
“Iran knows well that its ally fighters are retreating and are in a precarious position,” Mahmoud al-Taher, a Middle Eastern political analyst, told The Media Line. “The Iranian attitude has changed as a result of Abdulkareem al-Houthi, brother of Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, who is currently in Tehran to salvage the group and offset its losses,” he explained.
For his part, Ali al-Bukhaiti, a Yemeni political analyst based in Jordan, contended to The Media Line that “Iran is using the blood of Yeminis as a card in the negotiations over saving the nuclear deal. Destruction is in our state but the benefits go to Iran, which is now speaking in a strong tone that reflects its direct involvement in the Houthi issue.”
Abdulkhaleq al-Shahari, a Senior Military Adviser in Yemen’s National Army, told The Media Line that “the international community is responsible for Iran’s negative role in the region,” adding that Tehran is playing with “Yemen’s dossier to gain points in the nuclear talks.” He further noted that an advance by Yemeni government forces on Hodeida may have prompted Iran to alter its course.
Following days of intense fighting, thousands of citizens have fled their homes in and around Hodeida, a vital city for millions of citizens who receive medical supplies and food via its port.
Saudi Arabia alleges that Houthi rebels also use the port to smuggle in weapons and missiles from Iran.
“Hodeida is the third-largest city in Yemen and is considered an entryway for arms and supplies to the Houthis,” al-Shahari stressed. “If the rebels lose Hodeida, they will likely be defeated.”
Yemeni government forces said they have advanced within 20 kilometers of the city.
Local sources told The Media Line that the Houthis and their supporters are making arrangements to defend the city, with many armed vehicles and hundreds of fighters having already arrived. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the rebel group, recently appeared in a televised video, urging his tribesmen to join the fight.
Late Monday, Houthi media activists said that Abdel Jabar al-Shami, who leads a battalion in the rebel’s Al-Hussein Brigade, was killed near Hodeida in a fight with government forces. Al-Shami’s battalion reportedly was responsible for invading the home of and killing former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital Sana’a in 2017.
“Al-Shami was trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts abroad before 2014,” a Houthi source requesting anonymity told The Media Line. “Shami’s death took place in Durayhimi district near Hodeida, where most of the battalion fighters were killed,” the source added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations is “extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation around Hodeida,” Stefan Dujarrik, Press Secretary for UN chief Antonio Guterres, asserted during a recent press conference. “Our colleagues in the area have already begun to take precautionary measures in terms of curtailing aid and reviewing the contingency plan in case of further escalation.”
According to the UN, the conflict in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced over 3 million others, amounting to the country’s worst-ever humanitarian crisis.