The Houthi militia in Yemen has abandoned Iranian Envoy Hassan Irlu. There were no public differences between Irlu and Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, but suddenly he was sent abroad in a process that bore negative connotations about the relationship between Tehran and the militia.
The presence of Irlu, a leader in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, was not ordinary. Rather, it was the heading of a new phase that Tehran’s influence reached in Yemen, in which its project moved from exercising roles secretly or indirectly to a public presence under the shining cover of the ambassador’s position.
Although no one recognized this alleged diplomatic relationship between Tehran and the militia, Irlu’s actions in Sanaa were blatantly destroying these allegations, as he was acting in a way that suggested great influence by making public decisions without checking with Houthi members, to whom he was supposed to be a representative of a foreign country.
Irlu was making statements detailing sensitive issues in contradiction to the allegations that he represented a diplomatic mission. He responded to foreign initiatives regarding the Houthis, and he also signed the initiative submitted by Saudi Arabia to establish peace in Yemen last summer.
With Tehran and the Houthis officially announcing Irlu’s departure through the mediation of the Iraqi government, claiming that he was infected with the corona virus, many questions arise regarding the truth of what was announced. Among the scenarios mentioned by media reports is the possibility that Irlu was hit by an airstrike of the Arab coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen during operations that hit targets linked to IRGC experts and the Lebanese Hezbollah in Sanaa.
Arab and international news reports also talked about the existence of deep differences between Irlu and Houthi leaders over control of decision-making, after he marginalized the group’s leaders and blatantly dominated their decisions, which hindered their cooperation with him and made them prefer to work without him, especially after splits occurred in the ranks of the militia, accompanied by objections to the progress of work within it.
Irlu’s departure remains an opportunity for Iran to reduce the cost of its public presence, but it does not mean in any way a change in its policy towards Yemen, as the Houthis have been an Iranian arm for many years.