The Ansar Allah Movement was founded in 1992 under the name of “Faithful Youth Movement”. The movement’s followers are known as the Houthis, named after the founder of the movement Badr al-Din al-Houthi, who is considered its religious leader. While many believe that the Houthis are Shiites, they are in fact from the Zaydi faith, which is fundamentally different from the Shiite faith. The Zaydis in Yemen are of Hashemite origins.
One of the main reasons behind the establishment of the movement by Badr al-Din al-Houthi is the marginalization and persecution by the Yemeni governments of the Hashemites and Zaydis where the Hashemites were expelled from all important positions in the country after the establishment of the Republic of Yemen. In addition, Badr al-Din al-Houthi established the movement out of fear of the disappearance of the Zaidi doctrine, especially after many Zaydis converted to the Sunni faith following great persecutions by the Yemeni governments.
Sa’ada is the main center of Ansar Allah which now has between 300 and 500 thousand members many of whom are fighters. The heavy shelling of Sa’ada by the several right-wing parties during the civil wars in Yemen led most of the population to join the the Ansar Allah movement. Badr al-Din al-Houthi died on November 25, 2010, and his successor in the leadership is his son Abdul Malik al-Houthi.
Despite the movement’s adoption of the slogan “Death to America”, the movement has never gone against the American interests in the region, nor did it plan at any time to target US forces. On its behalf. the United States does not regard Ansar Allah a terrorist organization and had tried to push the Yemeni government to give the Zaydis their rights prior to 2011. After the outbreak of the Saudi-Yemeni war in 2014, the United States sided with Saudi Arabia, but still regards al-Qaeda and ISIS as the only terrorist organizations in Yemen.
Regardless of the claims that Ansar Allah is an Iranian Shiite movement, the movement is not Shiite. There are major differences between the Shiites and Yazidis. The movement also denies any direct links to Iran or Iranian intelligence as well. Moreover, despite claims by the Yemeni government and the U.S. and Saudi intelligence sources that the movement of Ansar Allah was in contact with Iranian intelligence services on several occasions, these parties did not provide any evidence.
Yemeni President Abdullah Mansour Hadi announced in 2009 that members of the Ansar Allah were arrested for working as spies for the Iranian intelligence, however, he did not present any evidence to prove his claim. These defendants were released when the Yemeni court proved their innocence.
Iran hasn’t denied those claims and is using them in propaganda campaigns in the Arab region. It is also believed that Ansar Allah has received some financial support and arms from Iran since 2009.
In 2004, the first clashes between Ansar Allah and the Yemeni government began after the Yemeni government demanded that Ansar Allah must hand over donations from their supporters in Sa’ada and several other areas. Thus, the limited clashes began and continued sporadically between 2004 and 2011 for various reasons.
The most important of these small wars were the following:
- First War: June – September 2004
- Second War: March – May 2005
- Third War: November 2005 – January 2006
- Fourth War: January – June 2007
- Fifth War: March – July 2008.
The Houthi-Yemeni wars in many cases ended in political agreements. However, in the sixth war from August 2009 to February 2010, the crisis expanded as Saudi Arabia intervened against the Houthis. The war began when the Yemeni Army launched an operation on August 11, 2011 under the name “Scorched Earth Operation” against the Houthis in Sa’ada. In the early days of the war, 80 civilians, supporters of the Ansar Allah movement, were killed. The Houthis attacked the Saudi border positions where they accused Saudi Arabia of allowing the Yemeni Army to use its land and border positions to attack them in Sa’ada.
On November 5, 2009 the Saudi Army and the Saudi Air Force began a bombing campaign in Sa’ada and targeted Ansar Allah fighters. However, Ansar Allah managed to advance and capture 46 Saudi villages in Jizan and Najran inside Saudi territory, causing important losses to the Saudi Army and managed to kill 133 Saudi soldiers within days.
A political agreement was reached to withdraw Ansar Allah from the Saudi villages and Sa’ada. The clashes ended on February 12, 2010. The withdrawal of the Houthis and the Yemeni army, allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to enter Sa’ada.
In 2014, the clashes resumed following provocations by extremist Saudi religious organizations such as the Sunni Yemeni Wissal to fight Ansar Allah. Through Saudi provocations, the forces of Sheikh Hussein al-Ahmar and the Osaimat tribe cut off the road between Sa’ada and Sana’a and began to persecute the Houthis. Ansar Allah quickly attacked Amran, the center of the Osaimat tribe and Al Ahmar.
The Yemeni Army maintained its neutrality during the violent clashes, which ended with an agreement between the Houthis and the Osaimat to reopen the road. However the agreement failed due to Saudi provocations and the Houthis managed to capture Amran on July 8, 2014.
Abdul Malik al-Houthi called on the Yemenis to protest in Sanaa against the increase of the fuel prices, where heavy clashes broke out in Hamdan, north of Sanaa, during which 32 civilians were killed. The Houthis began military actions to capture the capital and managed to do so on September 21, 2014. A national government to include all parties led by Khalid Bahah was formed.
Hadi did not abide by the agreement which resulted in the Houthis attacking his home and government headquarters on January 19, 2015, and capturing it without any resistance. They also captured all the Yemeni Army bases. Most of the Yemeni Army divisions supported the Housthis, most notably the Republican Guard. Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh supported Ansar Allah as well.
Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia. On March 25, 2015 Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab countries, the most important of which was the UAE, and with direct American support, launched operation “Decisive Storm” to return Hadi to power on the pretext that he was the legitimate president. Despite the heavy bombardment, the Saudi coalition was unable to recapture Sanaa city. In addition, Saudi Arabia imposed a land and sea blockade on the areas captured by Ansar Allah.
The end of Operation “Al-Hazm Storm” was announced on April 21, 2015 and on the same day the Saudi coalition launched Operation “Restore Hope”. The bombing continued without the Saudi alliance achieving any real gains on the ground.
The Saudi military intervention strengthened al-Qaeda’s influence in Yemen again, and ISIS managed to capture many areas in northeastern Yemen. The siege has led to severe shortages of food and famine in some areas. Diseases and epidemics such as cholera have spread, and the Saudi coalition bombings have resulted in the killing of large numbers of civilians, most notably of which was the bombing of a funeral hall on October 8, 2016 in Sana’a by Saudi warplanes, killing 140 civilians and wounding 525 others.
The Saudi Air Force used British-made cluster bombs against the civilian areas. It is believed that the Saudi coalition used heavy or prohibited weapons against civilians, especially American, British and Canadian-made. Although Britain has raised some restrictions against the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, Canada and the United States have still not done that.
Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has refused any political solution, although the Yemeni parties have reached several agreements to end the war. The Saudi coalition, however, has always worked to thwart any political agreement or ceasefire agreement through provocative bombardments.
Since the beginning of 2017, with the increase of ISIS influence in Yemen, some Saudi-UAE disagreements have begun to emerge in Yemen, especially after the Yemeni forces, backed directly by the UAE, seized the Aden International Airport and expelled the Saudi-backed forces from it in May 2017.
With the increasing complexity of the crisis in Yemen and the increase in the number of parties, it is widely believed that the Saudi alliance will not achieve any of its objectives in Yemen, and that they’ll continue the military intervention only to provoke Iran.