Yemen’s Houthis and the expansion of Iran’s Axis of Resistance

March 14, 2022


Katherine Zimmerman

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American Enterprise Institute

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  • Yemen

Key Points

  • Iranian-sourced nonnuclear proliferation in Yemen — ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — is part of a larger pattern in the Middle East that tests the current regional security architecture. The Yemen conflict has provided Iran with a live-fire testing ground for longer-range capabilities. Houthi-fired Iranian-sourced ballistic missiles and UAVs provide data to feed back into Iranian weapons development cycles. Additionally, the Houthis have innovated new tactics with Iranian-sourced UAVs, tactics since adopted by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, showing the transfer of knowledge between theaters.
  • The Houthis’ expansion of the scope of Yemen’s conflict has created a growing requirement to defend US personnel based in the region and support Gulf partners against ballistic-missile and UAV attacks. The missile defense systems in place to counter the Iranian-sourced Houthi threat are expensive, especially compared to the relatively low-cost weapons the Houthis use. Counter-smuggling operations have had a limited impact. Targeting Iranian-sourced components to render them ineffective before they are transferred might produce more asymmetrical results.
  • The United States must develop a comprehensive approach to Yemen and the region that reflects the new reality of the Houthis as part of Iran’s Axis of Resistance. The Houthis’ incorporation into the Axis broadens the means of action at Iran’s disposal to advance its regional interests, especially as Iran seeks to contest deepening Israeli-Emirati ties.

Read the full report at the American Enterprise Institute.