Yemeni Minister: Iran’s Quds Force Commander Is De Facto Ruler Of Houthi-Held Areas

Iran’s Quds Force commander, Hassan Erlo, is acting as de facto ruler of areas controlled by the Houthi militia, a senior Yemeni official has said. Erlo (Irlo) is Iran’s ambassador to Sana’a.

Erlo’s movements are highlighted by the Houthis’ media outfit, which confirms that he is acting as a leader, Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, culture and tourism, said on Wednesday.

Eryani was quoted by state news agency SABA as saying that the Quds Force commander’s actions show that the Houthi leadership takes political, military and administrative orders from the Tehran regime.

Iran sends its orders through Erlo, the minister added.

He claimed that this highlights Iran’s attempts to impose its control on Yemen as part of an “expansion project in the entire region,” adding that the Houthi militia is “a dirty tool to implement this aim.”

Without tough punitive measures from the international community and military pressure on the ground, Iran-backed Houthis will not offer concessions and will continue rejecting initiatives to end the war, Yemen experts said.

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths said on Wednesday that a peace deal was not in sight and his latest intensive efforts to find common ground between warring factions in Yemen have yielded no fruit.

Officials close to the talks told Arab News that diplomatic initiatives reached a deadlock when the Houthis refused to stop their deadly offensive on Yemen’s central city of Marib before the opening of Sanaa airport and Hodeidah ports and a complete cessation of Arab coalition airstrikes.

“They also are not interested in de-escalation inside Yemen,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News, adding that the Houthi movement’s main goal at the talks is to halt Arab coalition airstrikes that have thwarted their plan to take Marib.

“Houthis negotiate to get the Saudis out. They consider everything inside Yemen fair game and basically their own internal matter. They are still determined to take Marib and the rest of Yemen. I don’t know why international actors involved in the negotiations refuse to acknowledge that,” she said.

Global pressure on the Houthis to comply with peace efforts and stop military escalation have intensified in the past two months as the rebels mounted an offensive to seize control of oil-rich Marib, the government’s last stronghold in northern Yemen.

The militia have rejected calls to stop attacks on the city despite growing warnings that the offensive is putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.

Yemen experts and officials say the Houthis do not believe in making peace with their opponents and believe they can militarily win the war.

“The Houthi preconditions are designed to disrupt peace efforts. The Yemeni file is still being used by Iran in its struggle with Saudi Arabia and the US,” Najeeb Ghallab, undersecretary at Yemen’s information ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News.

He said that the global community’s readings of the Yemen conflict are now more “mature” and acknowledged that the Houthis are not serious about reaching a deal to end the fighting.

The international community might impose sanctions on the militia or even support their opponents militarily if the rebels refused to stop fighting, Ghallab said.

Other experts believe that the lack of global pressure has encouraged the rebels’ reluctance to accept peace ideas offered by the UN Yemen envoy or the US Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking.

“Another failed Yemen negotiation due to Houthi rejection of a political solution. Diplomacy without the option of coercion rarely succeeds,” said Norman Roule, a former CIA official, said in a Twitter post, commenting on the UN Yemen envoy’s statement.

Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert, argues that talks failed to lead to a deal since neither the UN nor the US has any influence on the Houthis.

“Sad but predictable, neither the UN nor the US is pressing the right buttons. Without leverage on the Houthis, neither the Marib offensive nor the war are going to end anytime soon. As ever Yemeni civilians will pay the price,” he said on Twitter.

Experts say that coordinated diplomatic and military pressure is needed to force the militia to stop the conflict.

Al-Dawsari believes a military option would end the Houthi objection to peace initiatives.

“A military push is needed to weaken the Houthis enough so that they feel negotiations toward a peaceful solution is their best alternative. So long as the Houthis are strong militarily, Yemen will continue to be in turmoil,” she said.

Ghallab called for a new UN Security Council resolution imposing a nationwide truce and threatening sanctions on the party that violates the cease-fire.

“There must be a pressure force from the international community that coerces the Houthis into accepting negotiations and ending the war,” he said.

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