Western officials dismiss Saudi claims that Yemen’s Houthis have close ties to Iran

Bloomberg reports: European leaders are signaling to Riyadh that patience with its three-week offensive — joined by nine mostly Sunni Muslim nations with the stated aim of restoring to power a legitimate, ousted government — is starting to wear thin. Yemen’s disintegration can only be prevented by negotiations between its competing factions, they say.

“The prospect of a military solution to the Yemen problem isn’t foreseen by anybody,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday after meeting his counterparts from the Group of Seven nations in the German port city of Luebeck. He said all G7 ministers called for a return to dialogue.

There are already indications that al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is gaining from the conflict. The group and allied fighters on Thursday seized control of an airport and oil export terminal around the town of Mukalla, which they captured this month, according to a local tribal leader.

The Houthis have been fighting against al-Qaeda for years, and say that Yemen’s government, counted by the U.S. as an ally against the jihadists, has been tacitly aiding them.

Secretary of State John Kerry and other top U.S. officials have accused Iran of providing military and financial support to the Houthis in an effort to expand its influence, American and European intelligence officers and diplomats following the issue closely say the Islamic Republic’s support is limited.

The Houthis are not aligned with the Iranian brand of Shiite Islam, two U.S. officials who requested anonymity to be critical of higher-ranking colleagues, pointed out. The group has no allegiance to Iranian leaders in Tehran or top clerics in the holy city of Qom, two European officials said.

The Houthis are fighting largely with small arms and light weapons they’ve had for years or seized from U.S.-backed Yemeni forces, according to one American official. They are not reliant on Iranian arms, money, intelligence or direction to nearly the degree that Hezbollah in Lebanon, some Shiite militias in Iraq or the Syrian government are, the official said. [Continue reading…]

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