When Mohammad Abdulsalam, the spokesman for the Yemeni Ansaarallah movement met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on August 13, he was wearing a traditional dagger in his belt.
Pictures of the meeting amused social media users in Iran for several days as they asked whether it was a real dagger or Abdulsalam was simply wearing an empty shell. Khamenei's official website joined the debate and said the dagger marked Khamenei's absolute trust in the Houthis.
IRGC-linked newspaper Javan wrote "while the Yemeni students of the University of Tehran were not allowed to carry their daggers during a visit to Khamenei's house, the Ansarallah spokesman's meeting with Khamenei with the dagger in his belt marked mutual loyalty.
Four days after this meeting, however, the British Ambassador in Tehran Rob Macaire posted a highly serious and meaningful tweet, in which he thanked the Iranian Foreign Ministry for hosting a meeting between the Ansarallah /Houthi delegation and British, German and French diplomats, adding that it was "important to have dialogue both on political track and humanitarian crisis."
The tweet sheds light on what was behind Khamenei's "absolute trust" in the Houthi representative. In other words, Abdulsalam and the delegation that accompanied him were looking for peace negotiations as the Islamic Republic explored some kind of peace in Yemen.
Sanctions Meant for Iran Hit Yemen
Iran's financial and political bottleneck as a result of U.S. sanctions is so serious that lending continues support to Houthis has become hard, if not impossible for Tehran.
Iran has no common border with Yemen which is a neighbor of Oman and Saudi Arabia. So, Iran cannot send weapons to Yemen via land routes.
Meanwhile, Yemen's ports are being controlled by the United Arab Emirates and the waters around Yemen are being constantly watched by international military forces from Israel to the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Yemeni airports have been shut down for a long time.
Unlike groups such as Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, the Houthis cannot receive weapons and equipment from Iran across the borders, while Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian groups receive money and weapons from Iran via air, sea and land.
Iran’s assistance to the Houthis comes mainly in the form of financial assistance, but now U.S. sanctions on Iran have also hit the Houthis in Yemen. So, they are looking for a way to make peace.
End of Saudi Coalition
The war Saudi Arabia has been furthering in Yemen for more than four years, has led to widespread destruction of infrastructure, and the outbreak of epidemics in Yemen. The Houthis are still in control of the northwest and the capital Sana and nothing is left of the coalition Saudi Arabia once created. Saudi Arabia's most important ally, the UAE, is going its own separate way.
Fighting against Houthis has never been a priority for the UAE that follows two main objectives in Yemen: controlling the country's southern waters and ports, and campaigning against Muslim Brotherhood not only in Yemen, but all over the Muslim world.
When Saudi Arabia and forces loyal to strongman Abdrabbuh Mansur started to cooperate with the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, the Emiratis were so angered that they left the Saudi coalition and began to support the separatists in the South, where there is still a nostalgia for the socialist Southern Yemen prior to the downfall of the Soviet Union when there was a People's Democratic Republic of Yemen in Aden and the Iranian and Saudi backed Arab Republic of Yemen in the North.
Now the separatists in the South see a powerful supporter they think can help them to realize their old dream, although it is difficult to assume the UAE is following the idea of restoring socialism in an independent Southern Yemen.
Serious Threat of Disintegration
The disintegration of Yemen is a serious threat. Many believe that reconstructing a single government in Yemen is an impossible today.
Amid the chaos, the Americans are also thinking of peace in Yemen as they know Saudi Arabia's war against Houthis will get them to nowhere and that it is not easy to neutralize the Houthis in the short-run.
This is perhaps why in late August the Wall Street Journal broke the news about secret talks between the United States and Houthis. This was later confirmed by David Schenker the Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
This opens the door to the possibility that even a partial agreement on reduction of violence in Yemen can help reduce tensions between the United States and Iran. After all, one of the thorny issues for the Trump administration is Iran’s interventions in regional countries in creating and supporting militia and insurgent forces such as the Houthis.