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The Blame Game in Yemen: Why Tehran Isn’t to Blame for the Civil War

Written by Amelie Theussen, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studies

Starting March 25, 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of eight other Arab states conducted Operation Decisive Storm in response to requests for assistance by the internationally recognized but ousted Yemeni President Hadi. Operation Decisive Storm consisted of airstrikes by the coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, against the increasingly successful Houthi insurgency. 

Saudi Arabia’s rationale for its military intervention refers directly to Iranian control in the region. But as Mohsen Milani argues in his article for Foreign Affairs, “Saudi Arabia is grossly exaggerating Iran’s power in Yemen to justify its own expansionist ambitions”.

Not Iran but chaos controls Yemen. After the Arab Spring in 2011 the disposed president Saleh, the former nemesis of the Houthi movement, joined the insurgency to overthrow the new president Hadi. It is Saleh’s network within the military and intelligence service that made the Houthis’ advances possible.


While it can be argued that some radical forces in Iran might have supported the Houthis with limited military and financial support, Milani contends that “the nature and extent of Iranian involvement has been exaggerated and sometimes deliberately distorted”. He argues that the striking similarities of the Houthis’ and Iran’s political and ideological orientation and Iran’s moves to expand its influence in the region are nothing new, and that Saudi Arabia’s intervention serves only to aggravate the war, creating a quagmire where terrorists can expand their activities, which worsens the humanitarian situation tremendously. 

After Saudi Arabia announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm on April 21, it will be interesting to see how the situation develops further, as involvement of the coalition continues through Operation Restoring Hope. Even though Operation Restoring Hope is officially more focused on the political process, the use of force is not ruled out, and further airstrikes have already occurred. 

If you are interested in reading Mohsen Milani’s take on the Iran’s Game in Yemen, and who is or is not to blame for the civil war, you can find his Article at Foreign Affairs homepage.