Skip to main content

Is Iran really to blame for Yemen conflict?

Yemen's conflict is homegrown and the only way to stabilize the country's descent into civil war is through a political deal.
Houthi militants ride on a patrol truck at the international airport of Yemen's capital Sanaa, April 29, 2015. Jets from a Saudi-led alliance destroyed the runway of Yemen's Sanaa airport on Tuesday to prevent an Iranian plane from landing there, Saudi Arabia said, as fighting across the country killed at least 30 people. Airport officials said the strikes set a civilian aircraft operated by Yemeni Felix Airways ablaze. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah - RTX1ATYY

The deaths of at least 1,000 Yemenis, including 115 children, and over 3,500 injuries has seemingly been the main result of the Saudi-led military strikes against the country. The conventional wisdom of these attacks on Yemen has been that it is the latest battlefield in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Such portrayals of the conflict often frame Iran as the aggressor, parroting claims that Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen was somehow forced due to Iranian meddling in its backyard. However, such assertions ignore not just the realities of Yemen’s internal politics, but also more than a little bit of history.

To gain a better understanding of the recent actions of the Houthi forces, it is vital to understand the broader historical context of their origins. The Houthis, who call themselves Ansar Allah, are members of the Zaydi sect of Islam. The adherents of Zaydi Islam, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, comprise upward of 40% of Yemen's population.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 for annual access.