Iran Rising: Mullah-Backed Rebels Reach Yemen's Capital

Iran has a number of reasons for supporting the Houthis. Alliance with a restive armed Shia group that controls border areas facing Saudi Arabia is a useful tool of pressure on Riyadh.

Also, Yemen has a significant section of the Red Sea coast which Iran seeks to control as part of its broader goal of acquiring control of the sea lanes from the Persian Gulf.

The latest events in Yemen are once again testimony to the unsurpassed skill that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps displays in the practice of political and paramilitary warfare in the Middle East.

This ability to develop and maintain proxy political-military forces has been an asset in Iranian hands since the birth of the Islamic Republic, with the Lebanese Hizballah the first fruit of it.

In the current context of the breakup of formerly strong regimes in a number of Arab countries and the outbreak of war between would-be successor groups, this ability is at a premium. The Iranian skill in this regard is what preserved the Assad regime through the creation and mobilization of sectarian military groups in Syria against the Sunni insurgency there.

Teheran appears currently to be repeating this process in Iraq, where brutal Shia militias are playing an ever more important role in the fight against the Islamic State.

In Yemen, a similar dynamic is emerging.

The Saudis simply have no parallel ability to use clients. They consequently prefer to invest in regular state military forces. Where the state is a real and a strong one, as in Egypt, this orientation can pay dividends. Where the state is largely a fiction, as in Yemen, Riyadh and its money power is of limited use.

This applies also to the Lebanon example (in Iraq and in Syria, the “state” is on the pro-Iran side).

Events in Yemen ought to concern the West because they demonstrate once again the skill and determination of the Iranians in the game that matters most right now in the Middle East.

At the same time, Teheran appears to be well on the way toward nuclear weapons capability, because of the fecklessness of Western policy. This will pave the way for a yet more aggressive Iranian push to hegemony in Yemen and beyond it, throughout the Gulf, Iraq, and the Levant.