Proxy or Not? US Can’t Make Up Its Mind on Yemen’s Houthis

by | Dec 12, 2019

In announcing its latest round of sanctions on Iran, Washington once again declared Yemen’s Houthi movement a “proxy” of the Islamic Republic, but recent statements from US officials – including Trump’s top Iran envoy – finally put the lie to that worn out talking point.

Targeting a major shipping network as well as Tehran’s largest private airline on Wednesday, the US Treasury Department maintained the new sanctions would disrupt Iran’s support for “proxy militias” in Yemen and elsewhere, singling out the Houthis by name.

While such assertions have become boilerplate within the DC foreign policy blob, the consensus on the Houthis’ proxy status appears to be crumbling – and for good reason.

At a press briefing last week, Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters that “Iran clearly does not speak for the Houthis,” downplaying the long hyped links between the two groups.

“We should recall that the Houthis proposed a cessation of missile and air attacks with Saudi Arabia just days after the Iranians struck Saudi oil installations on Sept. 14,” Hook added – ignoring that the Houthis themselves took credit for the strike in question, but nonetheless attempting to make a distinction.

Hook’s partial about-face is especially strange in light of previous statements, penning an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in September arguing that the rebels launched their coup with the “patronage” of Tehran. While, to the contrary, Iranian officials explicitly discouraged the Houthis from marching on Sana’a in 2014, Hook’s latest comments appear to break with his prior stance.

Denise Natali, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, made a similar point at another recent presser, stating that “Not all Houthis support Iran.”

Despite years of near-unanimous agreement among hawkish US officials and the corporate press – who mindlessly copy/paste “Iran-backed Houthis” into all Yemen coverage – little evidence has ever been adduced to prove the Houthis are but a cats-paw of the Iranians. 

“The Houthis are not Hezbollah and, despite their publicly expressed sympathies for the Islamic Republic, have not developed a similarly tight relationship with Tehran,” Joost Hiltermann, program director for the International Crisis Group, wrote in a 2017 piece in Foreign Policy.

Though Hiltermann acknowledged some ideological affinity between the two groups, he was forced to conclude that “Apart from Tehran’s strong pro-Houthi rhetoric, very little hard evidence has turned up of Iranian support to the Houthis.”

About Will Porter

Will Porter is assistant news editor at the Libertarian Institute and a staff writer at RT. Find more of his work at Antiwar.com and Consortium News.
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