Iran steps back, fearing US reaction in Yemen

yemeniranOn 20 October, a report by Reuters detailed concerns in Washington and in other capitals about an increase in Iranian supplies of weaponry to the Houthi movement in Yemen. While reports of Iranian military supplies to the Houthis are long standing, the scope and quality of the weaponry – including anti-ship missiles – as claimed by Reuters point to an escalation.

And yet, the initial Iranian reaction has been somewhat muted. Tehran has yet to answer the charges directly. The two outlets in Iran which are closest to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Fars News and Tasnim News, each simply provided a summary in Farsi of the Reuters report. The charges were not dismissed as such and instead both outlets concluded by raising the issue of the Saudi military intervention in Yemen as a roundabout way of suggesting the supplying of Houthi rebels is a legitimate cause.

Tehran has since the beginning of the Yemeni civil war in March 2015 recognized the Houthis as the legitimate government of Yemen and since gradually doubled down in its defense of its pro-Houthi stance. While Tehran depicts this policy as one of supporting the Yemeni people, critics point out that this is much more about an Iranian desire to drag Saudi Arabia into a prolonged quagmire that is the Yemeni civil war.

At the same time, official statement in Tehran also make it clear that Iran distinguishes between poking the Saudis in the eye in the case of Yemen versus directly challenging US military operations in the area. The official line from the Iranian foreign ministry, while dismissive of the Reuters report, is that Tehran categorically refutes any involvement in the recent anti-Ship missile launches by the Houthis against US and other ships in the Bab Al Mandab. This Iranian statement comes as US investigators are still looking into the source of the missiles fired by the Houthi forces.