Hezbollah operatives are present in Yemen, assisting the Houthis by giving them military knowledge and training, while in turn learning lessons from the “Yemen war lab” that they can in future apply against Israel, a senior former defense official has told JNS.

Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, former deputy head of the National Security Council and currently a senior research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, described a “mutual process” in play between the two Iranian-backed radical Shi’ite armed factions.

“The Houthis are also teaching Hezbollah—there is no chance that Hezbollah could test these kinds of operational scenarios, like the firing of unmanned aerial vehicle and cruise missile attacks on distant targets—back in Lebanon,” said Shay.

“It is very important to understand that this war in Yemen, which began as an internal feud between Yemen’s legal government and the Houthis, has now turned into a power struggle over hegemony in region between Iran and its allies, and a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia. This is the name of the game,” explained Shay.

The Yemen war can be traced back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia led a coalition of 10 countries in battle against the Houthis. The war gained a regional dimensional when Iran started arming the Houthis with advanced weaponry, which it routinely fires at Saudi targets, as well as, more recently, targets in the United Arab Emirates.

“When looking at the capabilities that the Houthis developed against the full aerial supremacy of the Saudi-UAE coalition, one can see that the Iranians equipped them with strategic weapons, like ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and armed UAVs,” said Shay. “These three components are often made in Iran and assembled in Yemen after being smuggled in parts.”

Hezbollah, as well as Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria, rely on just the same Iranian concept.

“The Iranians have managed to create a reality in which they fund, train and orchestrate the practical steps of their proxies. Hence, Hezbollah and the Houthis are linked by a mutual sympathy of two Shi’ite organizations, each working in their arena. This cooperation is part of a system headed by Tehran. This is the right way to look at it,” said Shay.

‘The Yemen war is a lab’

With the Houthis acting as the regional spearhead of Iranian activities, Hezbollah, which is armed with variants of similar ammunition, has much to learn from being on the ground in Yemen.

The same is true for the “mother ship” of both organizations: Iran.

For the Islamic Republic, said Shay, “the Yemen war is a lab in which the Iranians can assess the technical performance of their weapons. They can also assess how effective their firepower-activation techniques are. All of the variations of Iran’s missiles and UAVs are being tested there. And this is the disturbing part.”

For Hezbollah, the advantage is obvious. Since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the Lebanese Shi’ite army has had no opportunity to examine its own arsenal that it obtained from Iran, he pointed out.

“Since 2015, Hezbollah has been on the ground in Yemen—some believe from 2014. Hezbollah sent advisers who supported training programs, mostly on the activation of ground forces, and in some cases, weapons’ use. We saw IEDs in Yemen hidden in rocks that we recognized from Southern Lebanon, used by Hezbollah in Israel’s Security Zone in the 1990s,” said Shay.

This experience joins lessons that Hezbollah learned in the Syrian war, when it gained many insights into land warfare, urban warfare and coordinating artillery fire, noted the former defense official.

“These lessons, too, can be shared with the Houthis,” he stated.

In addition, Iran has equipped the Houthis with explosive-laden fast boats, operated by remote control, which have made an appearance in the Red Sea, against military and civilian vessels.

Such an attack capability is of certain interest to Hezbollah, cautioned Shay: “I would not be surprised if we run into this in the future in the northern arena.”

JNS

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