After Iraq and Syria, I.R.G.C. Seeking to “Expand” Its Role in Yemen and Broader Region

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Dec 14, 2017
After Iraq and Syria, I.R.G.C. Seeking to “Expand” Its Role in Yemen and Broader Region

Emboldened by its recent gains in Syria and Iraq, Iranian military leaders are seeking to play a more aggressive role in other regional conflicts in order to “expand” Iranian influence and export the “Islamic Revolution.” In particular, latest statements by commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and commentaries in the Iranian media suggest that the I.R.G.C. is planning to further increase its support for its Houthi allies in Yemen. Just hours before the United States today presented “irrefutable evidence” of Iranian weapons used by Yemeni rebels against Saudi Arabia, I.R.G.C. Chief Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said the Houthi rebels, will soon achieve victory against the Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition, the Iranian media reported. Major General Jafari also made it clear that the export of Iran’s revolution will not remain confined to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon but will “expand” in the region and across the world.

Export of Revolution

“Over the past 20 years, we have seen repeated victories of the [1979] Islamic Revolution and the defeat of its enemies. God willing, we will witness a victory in Yemen in the near future,” the I.R.G.C. chief commander said at a gathering in Tehran earlier today. He also called for continued efforts to export Iran’s revolution abroad. “The Islamic Revolution has two key dimensions, one internal and the other external. The external dimension of the revolution is expanding by the way of the Islamic resistance in the region and across the world. And the victory of this front is spreading in an incredible fashion. This victory is the result of constant struggle by a number of the mujahedeen of the Islamic Revolution,” he explained. “At present, we should seek to consolidate and expand these victories. These are the result of adhering to an important principle of the revolution based on Quranic [teachings], which is fighting the arrogance,” he added. Iranian leaders use the term “Global Arrogance” for the United States and its allies.

Jafari further boasted that the “Resistance Axis” in the region is led by the Islamic Republic, claiming that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is the “flag-bearer” of the resistance forces in the region. “It appears that this movement is making progress rapidly.”  The I.R.G.C. commander, however, emphasized that the Iranian regime has not achieved the same level of success in achieving the goals of the Islamic Revolution at home. “We have a long way to achieve the Revolution’s aspirations inside the country,” he pointed out. 

Arming Houthi rebels 

At a press conference at Joint Base Andrews this afternoon, Nikki Haley, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, said the United States had “undeniable” evidence that Tehran has been smuggling missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Standing next to debris of missiles launched by Iran’s Yemeni allies at Riyadh’s main airport, Haley said the missile parts bear Iranian markings. "Just imagine if this missile had been launched at Dulles Airport or JFK, or the airports in Paris, London, or Berlin," she said. "That’s what Iran is actively supporting." She also pointed out that the 2015 nuclear agreement “has done nothing to moderate the regime’s conduct in other areas” and that I.R.G.C. aid to “dangerous militias and terror groups is increasing,”

The Iranian government was quick in denying the allegations, but Jafari’s remarks today and statement by him and other Iranian leaders in the past discredit Tehran’s claim that it is not playing an active role in the Yemeni conflict.

Last month, Jafari admitted that Tehran is providing the Houthi rebels with “advisory military assistance” – a term Iranian leaders also use for its role in Syria and Iraq. “Our assistance to the resistance front has been provided at the request of their people and governments, and Yemen is one of those examples. In Yemen, the power today lies in the hands of Ansarullah and Iran’s assistance is at the level of advisory and spiritual support, which Yemen needs more,” Jafari said. He further stressed that the Islamic Republic will spare no effort to continue supporting the Houthi movement in the future.

On Wednesday, a reformist Iranian daily also warned that the I.R.G.C. leaders not only intend to keep a long-term military presence in Syria and Iraq, but also seek to expand the country’s “military advisory missions” to other conflict areas in the region, including Yemen and Palestine. “What can be inferred from the military leaders’ statements is that they are inclined to continue the military presence in Iraq and Syria, and even further expand this battlefield. Potential military advisory assistance to Yemen and also Palestinian groups are among issues that have strengthened this view in recent days,” the article pointed out. It further noted that some people in the country’s decision-making establishment now argue that Iran can replicate its success in Iraq and Syria in other conflict-ridden countries by extending the “model” of anti-ISIS military mission to “resolve all current crises in the region, from Yemen to Palestine, in this way.”

Even prior to the missile attack against Riyadh, the U.S. military and its allies have confiscated several Iranian arms shipments destined for Yemen in the past two years. In January, the Australian government released photographs that showed light anti-armor weapons seized near the Yemeni coast were manufactured in Iran. And last November, another report published CAR indicated an arms “pipeline” originating from Iran extended to Yemen and Somalia. Last year, Iran’s former ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi admitted that Tehran “assisted the region’s oppressed people, including in Yemen against the Saudi invaders.” In an interview with a conservative Iranian newspaper, he warned that Iran’s national security would be compromised if Riyadh succeeded in Yemen.

Iran has emerged the main victor of the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq as the I.R.G.C.’s elite Quds Force, under the command of Major General Qassem Soleimani, is now commanding tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen in both countries. Iran’s influence permeates all segments of Iraq’s politics and security and the I.R.G.C. is seeking to institutionalize its military presence in Syria to project power in the region and create trouble for Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States in the future. But as Jafari’s remarks demonstrate, the Islamic Republic is seeking to replicate its success in Iraq and Syria by increasing its support for non-state actors across the region to expand Iran’s hard power and soft power influence at the expense of regional security and stability. With the military defeat of ISIS, Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia forces fighting in Iraq and Syria are also indicating that they are ready to fight the United States and its regional allies next.