Yemen’s embattled president called Iranian-backed Houthi Shiite rebels "stooges of Iran" on Saturday ahead of an appeal for a unified support commitment to an Arab League summit in Egypt. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was driven from the country by Houthi rebels earlier this week, prompting an Arab coalition, led by neighboring Saudi Arabia, to launch an air campaign against the militants.
"I say to the stooges of Iran, its toys and those who support it, you have destroyed Yemen with your political adolescence and by manufacturing domestic and regional crises," Hadi said Saturday, the Associated Press reported. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, while not mentioning Iran by name, criticized foreign support for the Houthi movement. The Houthis’ recent victories prompted el-Sissi to call for a joint Arab military force to provide a unified security apparatus in the increasingly volatile Middle East.
As of Saturday, 10 Arab nations had joined Operation Decisive Storm, a mostly air-based effort to halt a rebel advance that threatened to completely unseat Hadi’s fledgling government. The U.S. has provided logistical support to the coalition in hopes of tipping the balance in Yemen back in favor of Hadi’s pro-U.S. government. The mostly northern Houthis have fought an insurgent conflict with the southern Sunni Yemeni government since the mid-1990s, but only recently posed a threat to Yemen’s unity. Egypt and Saudi Arabia announced they could send ground troops if Decisive Storm can’t disable the rebel contingent.
Arab airstrikes hit a Houthi convoy headed for the southern port of Aden, which Hadi made Yemen's temporary capital in September 2014 after Houthis took effective control of Sanaa. Saudi Arabia pulled naval personnel from the port ahead of the advance, a week after the U.S. pulled its special forces contingent from the nearby al-Anad air base.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif called for an end to the airstrikes and for all parties to "encourage dialogue and national reconciliation." Iran and Yemen’s Houthi militants have both denied the former is supporting the latter with funds and weapons.
Earlier this week, Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA officer and head of the Brookings Institution’s Middle East center, called for a pause in U.S. support for the Arab coalition, citing internal issues in coalition states and what he called the likelihood of further escalation if Arab nations become more involved in the Yemeni conflict. Arab leaders meet both Saturday and Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 26th annual Arab League Summit, with Yemen likely to be the dominant topic of discussion.