Author:  Vasil Ghlonti, international security expert



Iran has been exerting ever more influence over the Shiite population in the Middle East in recent decades. The country has done so through its special services and by using armed proxy groups made up of Shiites tohelpIran achieve its strategic goals in the region and beyond.

In this context, the Yemeni organization “Ansarullah” has stood out. Essentially originating from the “Guard Corps,” it has become notably active since the commencement of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, as evidenced by attacks carried out by its members on naval vessels in the Red Sea.

Our objective is to explore, analyze, and elucidate the role of Iran’s special services and religious circles in the formation of the Houthis. We seek to understand the purpose behind Ansarullah’s raiding attacks on naval ships, seemingly inspired by Iran’s Guard Corps. Additionally, we aim to investigate how the United States, Israel, Great Britain, and their strategic allies plan to respond to these destructive actions.

Cooperation between Iran’s Guard Corps and the Houthis

To enhance its influence in the Middle East region, Iran initiated a strategic project aimed at establishing the so-called Shiite resistance axis. As part of this initiative, Iranian military bases, drone/missile factories and intelligence centres were established in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Additionally, the formation of paramilitary organizations, comprised of a substantial portion of the local Shiite population, underscored the ambitious plans and objectives of Iran’s political and military elite.

One of the main pro-Iranian proxy groups was Ansarullah, made upof Shiites from the Zaydi branch who lived in the northern part of Yemen. They are also called Hussites, since their former leader, Hussein al-Houthi, belonged to the Hussite tribe. The Iranian clerics and the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” together with Ansarullah, were able to radicalize the Houthis using religious and financial factors, which helped them significantly strengthen their positions in Yemen. Additionally, the Yemeni Zaydite Shiites were influenced by Iranian clerical circles, leading them to adopt religious elements that were previously foreign to them and unique only to the Iranian type of Shiism.

This indicated the great influence of the Iranian Ayatollahs on the religious elite of Yemen. Against this background, according to information provided byAmerican intelligence officers, the Guard Corps special unit, “Al-Quds,” under the command of General QuasemSolemani, started supplying the Hussites with weapons as early as 2012. He also conducted military training and taught intelligence methods.

Our attention was caught by the declaration of the field commander of the Lebanese “Hezbollah,” stating that they underwent training with Yemenis both in Iran and Lebanon. Furthermore, leaders of the Houthis were frequently observed in both Tehran and South Beirut, where they maintained their own representative office and television channel, “Al-Masirah.” Conversely, there were also representatives of Iran’s Guard Corps and Hezbollah in Yemen, signifying a substantial level of coordination among Iranian special services, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Yemeni Ansarullah.

Following the liquidation of QassemSoleimani, the appointment of General Hassan Irlu as the representative of Al-Quds in Yemen, with the government tasking him to create challenges for the economy and oil sector of Saudi Arabia through the Houthis, underscored Iran’s economic objectives alongside its military plans in Yemen. Iran viewed Saudi Arabia as a competitor in the global energy market, particularly in terms of oil exports. Consequently, it was in Iran’s interest to instigate significant issues in the economic and energy domains of Saudi Arabia. This backdrop was further complicated by the ongoing competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for the province of Marib, abundant in oil and gas, situated in the northern region of Yemen. Iran supported the Houthis in capturing this province and its capital, Marib, while Saudi Arabia aided their Sunni adversaries. The activities of Al-Quds in Yemen also posed a security threat to Israel, as Tel Aviv harboured deep suspicions that, sooner or later, the Iranian side would instruct the Houthis to launch attacks on Israel’s territory from Yemen.​

It is noteworthy that Iran kept its provision of aid to the Yemeni Houthis hidden until 2021, revealing the factonly after Rostam Qassem, a senior official in Iran’s Guard Corps special unit Al-Quds, and former Minister of Economy, acknowledged that Iran had provided limited military support to the Houthis in the form of advice during their battles with Saudi Arabia.

“Ansarullah” – Iran’s leverage on the Red Sea

According to our assessment, Iran had been preparing for an extended period to utilize Ansarullah as its tool, and was only awaiting an opportune moment. Seizing the chance when, on October 7, 2023, the Palestinian groups “Hamas” and “Islamic Jihad,” allegedly prepared, armed, and incited by Iranian special services, attacked Israel, Iran exploited the situation by blocking the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait on the Red Sea with the assistance of the Houthis. The targeting of commercial ships associated with Israel by members of Ansarullah, as evidenced in attacks against the Unity Explorer, Number Nine, and The Galaxy Leader, lead us to infer that one of Iran’s primary objectives was the economic blockade of Israel.

However, Israel did not hesitate to retaliate, as seenby the bombingof 16 ships reportedly owned by Iran. According to information from Mossad, these vessels were laden with weapons destined for the Houthis, and were affiliated with the military and naval forces of Iran’s Guard Corps.

Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that the Iranian side harboured additional covert intentions beyond the blockade of Israel. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Houthiattacks on oil tankers in the Red Sea resulted in theescalation of oil prices. Given that Iran is an oil-exporting country, the surge in oil prices has likely contributed to an increase in its revenues.

Iran’s deep involvement in the ongoing events around the Red Sea has been confirmed by the presence of senior officials from the Iranian Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in Yemen, whose mission it was to coordinate Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. Iranian intelligence officers, military personnel, and Lebanese terrorists collaborated to supply the Houthis with missiles, drones, and intelligence, all aimed at identifying Israeli vessels. It is reported that in December, a group of Houthis underwent training at the Guard Corps base in Iran. Subsequently, an intelligence-military command centre was established in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, under the leadership of the Guard Corps, so as to coordinate Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

On January 1, 2024 Iran deployed its military ship, the “Alborz,” into the Red Sea. In response, the US National Security Council stated that Iran’s special services were behind the Houthi attacks, after which theUS authorities announced the initiation of Operation “Guardians of Prosperity” to safeguard the Red Sea from Houthi pirates. Four Houthi warships targeted the Danish container ship Maersk-Khanzgau in the southern part of the Red Sea but soon faced retaliation from the American military.

On the night of January 12, 2024, US and UK military air and naval forces carried out airstrikes on Ansarullah’s bases and deployment sites. Houthi officials expressed concerns, mentioning potential American targets, including the Sanaa and Khodeid airports, the Ad-Dailam military base, and the Qalen camp in the city of Saada. Alongside the Americans, military forces from Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and Bahrain participated in this joint action. In response, the Hussites attacked an American warship, which they claimedwas protecting two American commercial ships.

In light of recent developments, the declaration by Ansarullah officials that US and UK ships are now considered legitimate targets hints at the possibility of an escalation in the military confrontation between the Houthis and the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies. This was subsequently affirmed when, on February 3, 2024, the USA and Great Britain carried out bombings on 36 Houthi targets across 13 locations in Yemen. Additionally, on February 25, they initiated new extensive attacks.

Given this scenario, the likelihood of increased Iranian involvement in the conflict and a direct confrontation with the US has been heightened. However, it was expected that Iran would exercise caution and avoid a direct military clash with the US to the greatest extent possible.


Based on our assessment, the Iranian Guard Corps significantly contributed to the establishment and empowerment of the Houthi movement. Not only did Ansarullah receive weapons support from Al-Quds over the years, but Iranian special services also played a substantial role by providing military advisors to assist Ansarullah. Simultaneously, Iran’s clerical circles received motivated and ideologically-aligned fighters from the Houthis, facilitating their religious-ideological indoctrination.

It is conceivable that one of the primary objectives of the Iranian government is to gain control over one of the most critical transportation routes for the global economy, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. In pursuing this goal, the Iranian government anticipates that possessing such significant leverage will transform into an effective tool for diplomatic negotiations and political bargaining. Given that a significant volume of oil and oil products is transported from the Persian Gulf to Europe through that strait, and conversely, a substantial quantity of diverse goods is shipped from Europe to Asian countries via the same route, the potential blockade of this vital passage could trigger geopolitical and economic repercussions on a global scale.

This implies that Iran, through Ansarullah, possesses a robust tool with which it can potentially influence global prices, not only of oil but also other commodities, when deemed necessary. Such a scenario poses a significant challenge to the European Union and Western nations overall, as they might find themselves compelled to make substantial concessions to Iran on various critical matters in the future. The potential blockade of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait would undoubtedly impact the functioning of the Suez Canal, presenting a considerable concern for the world’s economy.

In this context, Saudi Arabia faces a potential threat, prompting a strategy of avoiding direct confrontation with Iran to prevent the creation of issues through Iran-backed Houthis. There is a possibility that Saudi Arabia might consider relinquishing its positions in Yemen in favour of the Houthis, especially as Riyadh has been engaged in efforts to improve relations with Tehran in recent years.

Against this backdrop, the strong response from the USA, Great Britain, France, and other nations indicates Western dissatisfaction with the activities of the Iran-Houthis alliance in the Red Sea under American leadership. Plans for retaliatory measures are evident. According to recent information in American media, Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of Iran, has urged Iran’s military and special services elite to exercise caution and abstain from direct military confrontation with the USA. This development leads us to believe that Tehran will likely avoid crossing certain red lines entirely.