The Houthis realign the Middle East
When a band of scrappy rebels known as the Houthis stormed out of northern Yemen’s mountains in 2014, friends and foes dismissed them as unsophisticated tribal fighters. But during Yemen’s civil war, the group has gone through a remarkable transformation.
The Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah, or the Partisans of God, now rule a repressive proto-state in northern Yemen. They control a vast arsenal that includes cruise missiles, kamikaze boats and long-range drones that threaten the Persian Gulf powerhouses it has waged war against, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
The swift expansion of the Houthis’ abilities stems largely thanks to covert military aid from Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials. Iran has integrated the group into its network of militias and built up Houthis’ ability to subvert Saudi defenses with relatively cheap weapons. But their rise led to a regional realignment, with more Arab countries willing to side with Israel or the U.S. to counter Iran.
Strategy: Iran’s cultivation of the Houthis mirrors the country’s support of other militias over the past three decades to extend its reach across the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and groups in Syria and Iraq. This network, which includes the Syrian government, calls itself the Axis of Resistance and aims to fight Israeli and U.S. influence.