For the last decade, the stability of the Republic of Yemen has been declining with the country beset by conflict between the Sunni-backed government, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Iranian-supported Shi’a Houthi rebels. Shi’a make up nearly one-third of Yemen’s population and have become an important player in Yemeni politics. The Houthi slogan “God is great/ Death to America/ Death to Israel /God curse the Jews/ Victory to Islam,” which emulates the Iranian regime’s own “Death to America” motto and extremist ideology, underscores the group’s links to Tehran. Iranian ties to the group have been significant and range from monetary and religious-based support to frequent shipment of arms and military training. Iranian support for the Houthi opposition has been ongoing since the civil war began between the Houthi opposition and Yemeni military in the summer of 2004. In 2009, Iran’s support for the Houthis was exposed when the Yemeni navy apprehended an Iranian ship off the Yemeni coast in the Red Sea which carried weapons experts and anti-tank weapons sent to replace wounded “Iranians fighting alongside Houthi rebels” against Yemeni government forces.
According to a senior American intelligence official in 2012, intercepted phone conversations between smugglers and the IRGC-Quds Force revealed that Iran has been “using small boats to ship AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other arms to replace older weapons used by the rebels.” In early 2012, the Yemeni government intercepted another shipment of Iranian manufactured material which was destined for a Yemeni Houthi businessman to create explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), an advanced improvised explosive device which has the ability to penetrate armored vehicles and killed hundreds of American servicemen during the Iraq War. A year later in January 2013, a joint U.S.-Yemeni military operation intercepted an Iranian shipment of surface-to-air missiles, C4 explosives, and RPGs in the Arabian Sea. American officials have likened Iran’s shipments of “relatively small, but steady stream of automatic rifles, grenade launchers, bomb-making material and several million dollars in cash” to the same kinds of materiel support that Iran provides to its allies in Syria and Iraq.
The Houthi seizure of the Yemeni capital Sana’a in September 2014 brought the Shi’a group to dominance over the Sunni majority. With Iranian arms shipments going back to at least 2009, Iranian support of Houthi operations in Yemen then increased considerably with Iran sending the group a shipment of 160 to 180 tons of arms and military equipment in March 2015.
On September 27, 2014, while speaking about the recent Houthi coup in Yemen, Ali Riza Zakani, a member of Iran’s parliament and a close confidante of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, stated that Iran is at a phase of “Grand Jihad” and “Three Arab capitals (Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad) have already fallen into Iran’s hands and belong to the Iranian Revolution” while referring to the fall of Sana’a as the fourth.