The Saudi Arabia-led military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen has raised questions over the pretext for the intervention and Iran’s role in the conflict.
Al Jazeera spoke to Fatima Alsmadi, a specialist in Iranian affairs at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies and author of several books.
Iran will not respond on a large scale. It will try to be cautious so as not to affect its standing in the talks as a deadline has been given for a final agreement on the talks at the end of the month.,
Al Jazeera: What role does Iran play in Yemen?
Fatima Alsmadi: In recent years, Iran has developed a relationship with the Houthis and supplied them with arms and military training, and kept in close contact with Houthi leaders to create a proxy for Iran in that region.
This has recently been exposed as the Houthis have made significant advances in Yemen and have taken control of key cities and areas. They have ousted the government forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who is backed by Saudi Arabia.
Al Jazeera: In what way, if at all, will the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen affect the Iran nuclear talks?
Fatima Alsmadi: Without a doubt, it will affect Iran’s position in the talks but not greatly. Iran has been preparing for a possible Saudi campaign in Yemen, but it didn’t expect such a large number of countries to join the Saudi coalition.
Iran will not respond on a large scale. It will try to be cautious so as not to affect its standing in the talks, as a deadline has been given for a final agreement on the talks at the end of the month.
In the long term, if this conflict drags on, it will be draining for the Saudi military and resources. Iran’s position in the talks was initially bolstered by its opposition to ISIL.
Iran is looking for peaceful nuclear negotiations so I don’t expect any large scale response to the military campaign in Yemen.
From an Iranian perspective, if an agreement is reached, it would enhance Iran’s regional stature.
Al Jazeera: Is Iran in a position to aid the Houthis?
Fatima Alsmadi: Iran has already been aiding the Houthis in the past, and will continue to do so as they are an important political card/proxy force for Iranian political leverage in the region.
It will support them in the form of military training and capabilities, as well as training their officers and providing logistics.
The campaign is not likely to fully incapacitate the Houthi movement on the ground, even if it curtails its power, or weakens it or even reclaims areas that the Houthis have gained.
Al Jazeera: Why is the conflict depicted as a sectarian one?
Fatima Alsmadi: It is a political conflict not a sectarian one, even if recently the Houthis have been identified or depicted as a Shia sect.
Some Saudi media outlets tend to portray the conflict in sectarian terms, i.e. Sunni vs Shia, in order to gain support from the predominantly Sunni Arab population, and to lend legitimacy to its actions.
The conflict essentially remains a political one for power and influence in the region between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and its Arab and western allies).