Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Recent advances by Yemen’s Houthi movement are part of an attempt to take control of the strategic Bab El-Mandeb strait off the Yemeni coast, military sources in the country said on Saturday.
This comes as three members of the group and three military personnel were killed on Friday evening as the armed Houthis attempted an attack on the Al-Khoukha military camp just south of the coastal city of Al-Hudaydah, close to the strategic waterway.
The Bab El-Mandeb, which connects the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and Suez Canal, is one of the most important maritime corridors in the world, through which most of Yemen’s oil exports pass on their way to global markets.
Retired Yemeni brigadier-general Mohsen Khasrouf told Asharq Al-Awsat the group “has its eyes firmly on the Bab El-Mandeb strait” and that Friday night’s attack represented “the first step on the road to taking control” of the waterway for the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Many in Yemen believe Saleh has been aiding the Houthis’ recent efforts to strengthen their hold over swaths of Yemen, which have seen them take control of the capital Sana’a and other parts of the country as well as military and government buildings and facilities.
Khasrouf said Saleh, a former army officer, still enjoyed great popularity within the Yemeni military, which he said the Houthis were now clearly attempting to control.
“The Bab El-Mandeb strait is not just related to Yemen’s security but to the security of the whole region,” Khasrouf said, adding that Iran was acting through the Houthis and attempting to gain control of the strait, which in addition to Iranian control of the strait of Hormuz, would give the Islamic Republic a strategic maritime advantage on the Arabian Peninsula’s surrounding waterways.
The Houthis deny claims by the Yemeni government and others that their fighters have been trained and equipped by Tehran.
Meanwhile, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who resigned as president last week when armed Houthi rebels surrounded his home in the capital, has been meeting with representatives from the group, who continue to surround his residence. Hadi said on Saturday he would not go back on his decision to resign, despite pressure from allies in Yemen, the region and the West.