A few months after the outbreak of the civil war in Yemen, the Gulf country became a new and important theatre of international warfare. The Yemeni conflict, with its particular characteristics due to its deep historical roots, would end up being another object of the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran in their attempt to establish their hegemony in the Arab world. The region was still suffering the consequences of the Arab Spring.
In April 2015, a Saudi-led military coalition officially intervened in the conflict with a bombing campaign in the country at the request of the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi. The successor to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, recognised by the international community, received Riyadh's backing in his fight against the Houthi rebels, who are also supported by Tehran and its related militias. Both sides are fighting for the same goals: to gain a regional partner and access to energy resources.
The participation of the coalition in the war, made up of countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan and supported by the United States and other European nations, is vox populi. In fact, it has been unequivocally acknowledged by the aforementioned actors. However, the degree of involvement of Iran and its Hezbollah partners has not been transparent.
Tehran flatly denies having sent troops and weapons to the Houthi militia, also known as Ansar Allah, and the Lebanese militia party has decided to follow the same strategy. But their denials do not hold water, as evidence of their involvement in the Yemen war goes back even before the war began. In 2013, the US Navy seized an Iranian drone carrying forty tonnes of military supplies 'destined for the Houthis', as diplomat Gerald M. Ferstein recounted in a report for the Middle East Institute.
The partnership between Tehran and Yemeni insurgents gained traction after the latter seized the capital, Sana'a, from the Houthis. After the offensive, a Houthi delegation travelled to Iran to conclude a series of air and military cooperation agreements, which marked a turning point in the conflict. From then on, the Iranians provided their partners with weapons and troops, and the so-called Party of God intervened directly.
Nearly seven years after the outbreak of the conflict, the evidence placing both Iran and Hezbollah on the side of Ansar Allah in Yemen appears to be clear. The latest accusation by Saudi Arabia and its partners against both actors - acting in unison - came from Coalition Forces spokesman and member of the Saudi Air Force's Plans and Operations Department, Turki al-Malki.
Al-Malki appeared on Sunday to justify Saudi Arabia's recent air strikes on several locations in Sana'a, including the airport. According to Riyadh, the facility is said to have been used by the Houthis to store weapons and ammunition. However, the airport also serves as an enclave for the arrival of humanitarian aid.
The Desert Kingdom launched a "full-scale" campaign on Saturday in retaliation for the rebels' continued attacks, which took the northern governorate of Yauf and killed two Saudi nationals in a missile attack in the border province of Jizan.
The Houthis are mostly from northern Yemen, close to the border with Saudi Arabia. This has been the historical stronghold of the Zaidi sect, a religious minority in the country that gives rise to the Houthi militia and which converges with Shiite postulates. A factor that explains the close ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran. From the north, they are launching cross-border air offensives on Saudi soil while descending towards the governorate of Marib, a key enclave in the future of the conflict that has been in play since February.
During his speech, Turki al-Malki also revealed a set of audio-visual documents that allegedly implicate the Lebanese group. The footage allegedly shows Hezbollah members training rebels to operate drones, the equipment used to attack Saudi positions. The coalition's thesis is that the Shi'ite militia party sent experts to train the rebels in assembling and launching ballistic missiles.
The coalition spokesman tallied that Ansar Allah has launched 430 missiles at Saudi Arabia and 851 drones since the start of the conflict, adding that the insurgents have planted a total of 247 naval mines in the Red Sea. These numbers have served as a pretext for Riyadh to increase its war campaign in Yemen despite losing the arms support of the United States, an actor that was crucial at the beginning of the war but from which it has distanced itself since the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House.
The Houthi rebels, with the decisive backing of their Iranian partners, continue to harass Saudi Arabia with cross-border attacks, but Riyadh's focus is on the Lebanese group's movements. "The Hezbollah terrorist organisation has spread destruction in the region and the world, and is now responsible for targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia and Yemen," said al-Malki. For the spokesman, the war in Yemen is an "intellectual, cultural, social and economic battle". Meanwhile, the Arabian Peninsula country is experiencing the world's biggest humanitarian crisis after more than six years of war.