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Iran outflanking Saudi Arabia in Yemen

Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen has allowed Iran more influence than ever in the region.
Armed followers of the Houthi movement protest against the president's announcement of an extension of the state of emergency and U.S. supporting the Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia, what they say is a U.S. interference in Yemen's affairs in Sanaa, Yemen May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi - RTS16DN2

Iran is gradually increasing its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Rather than eliminating the Iranian presence in the country, the Saudi-led war is giving Tehran the opportunity to become more influential there than ever. The Houthis remain fiercely independent of Iran, but they will need Tehran's backing more as the stalemate continues.

The Iranian connection with the Houthi movement dates back over a decade, before the Arab Spring, to the battles between the Houthis and the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Backed by the Saudis, Saleh tried to crush the Houthis in a series of military campaigns. Iran began providing training and expertise for the Houthi forces at camps in Lebanon run by Hezbollah and in Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Houthis openly emulated Hezbollah as a role model and successfully thwarted both Saleh and the Saudis. But Iran did not gain direct input into Houthi decision-making as it has with its Lebanese partner.

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