The Yemen File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Yemen conflict and the Salafi-jihadi movement in Yemen.
Yemen File: Iran may be increasingly seeking to promote al Houthi relations to threaten regional rivals
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader’s awareness.]
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The al Houthi Movement in Yemen: Iran may be intensifying its cooperation with the al Houthi movement to threaten Gulf Arab rivals.
The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Yemen: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will attempt to recruit former Guantanamo Bay detainees if they are handed over to the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
The al Houthi Movement in Yemen
Iran may be intensifying its cooperation with the al Houthi movement to threaten Gulf Arab rivals. Iran faces a growing security threat from a solidifying anti-Iran coalition, exemplified by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and several other Arab states’ normalization of relations with Israel. Iran has since flaunted its relationship with the al Houthi movement, likely in an effort to signal the threat it could pose to its Gulf rivals vis-à-vis al Houthi attacks. Iranian officials confirmed in late August that Iran has provided the al Houthi movement with technical expertise on weapons.
Iran also *appointed a new ambassador to Sana’a, the al Houthi–held Yemeni capital, in mid-October for the first time in five years. The new ambassador, Hassan Erlou, is an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) member and may serve as a military advisor to the al Houthis. Erlou may even be part of the IRGC’s Quds Force. This remains unconfirmed, however. Iranian ambassadors to Iraq have historically been Quds Force members, including its current ambassador. Erlou could advise the al Houthis on their advance toward the internationally recognized Yemeni government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen. Alternatively, the timing of Erlou’s arrival may be the product of political and bureaucratic processes. Iran *accepted the credentials of the al Houthi ambassador to Iran in November 2019.
The al Houthi movement also intensified attacks targeting Saudi Arabia with Iranian-provided weapons in late October. Saudi air defenses intercepted six al Houthi explosive-laden drones and three *ballistic missiles on October 28. The US embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, warned the attack may have been aimed at Riyadh.
The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Yemen
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will attempt to recruit former Guantanamo Bay detainees if they are handed over to the internationally recognized Yemeni government. The US transferred Guantanamo detainees to the UAE five years ago that may now be transferred to Yemen. The detainees include 18 Yemenis the UAE held in prisons notorious for torture.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainees previously joined AQAP, including AQAP’s late deputy leader Said al Shihri and current senior official Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi. If AQAP recruits these former detainees, some may rise to senior positions as has been the case. The internationally recognized Yemeni government will likely be unable to monitor the returnees due to the ongoing civil war.