• Report: Iran Steps Up Military Aid to Yemen’s Houthis

Pursuing re-election in May, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has defended his record on the economy, likely to be the major issue in the campaign.

Opening a pharmaceutical production line, Rouhani said his administration “is proud” of the fact that “the path” that it “has chosen is the right way”, but said that recovery was a long-term process:

This path is not yet finished; it will be difficult [in the next term] to reach the end of it. In fact, the next ten governments will not be able to resolve all of the problems. But if 100 problems are decreased to 90 or 80, this is the right direction.

Rouhani turned to his critics, including a potential conservative-hardliner challenger in the election, “We must not allow some pens, people, or languages to plant the seeds of despair in the hearts of young people.”

The Government has succeeded, since Rouhani’s election in 2013, in restoring moderate growth and in reducing inflation from 45% to under 9%. However, Iran is struggling to renew foreign trade and investment after the July 2015 nuclear deal, after continued US restrictions and internal disputes. While oil exports have recovered 40% in the past year, a further rise is capped by OPEC limits.

Politically, the economic challenges have fed claims that Rouhani and his advisors are weak in the face of the US. The Supreme Leader has pressed the President, including in his declaration on Monday that the new Iranian year will be the “Year of Resistance Economy”.

See Iran Daily, March 21: Supreme Leader Proclaims “Year of Resistance Economy”

In his New Year’s address, Rouhani turned the Supreme Leader’s message into an assertion that Iran “must put all our capabilities” towards an increase in employment. He pointed to the latest GDP figures to claim likely success:

Some friends and Cabinet members told me we might not be able to achieve [5% growth]. I told them this was the objective which we would, God willing, achieve; and if we did not, we would apologize to the people….We thank God that we achieved what we promised the people.

TOP PHOTO: President Hassan Rouhani at a speech for Iranian New Year on Tuesday

Report: Iran Steps Up Military Aid to Yemen’s Houthis

Iran is reportedly stepping up its supply of advanced weapons and military advisors to Yemen’s insurgent Ansar Allah (Houthi) movement, which controls the capital Sana’a and much of the country.

A senior Iranian official said Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, met top Guards officials in Tehran last month to look at ways to “empower” the Houthis:

At this meeting, they agreed to increase the amount of help, through training, arms and financial support.

Yemen is where the real proxy war is going on and winning the battle in Yemen will help define the balance of power in the Middle East.

Unnamed regional and Western sources told Reuters that Iran has escalated its involvement in recent months, trying to counter the Saudi-led intervention backing the Yemeni Government, now based in the southern port city of Aden.

A “former senior Iranian security official” said Tehran wanted to “strengthen its hand in the region”: “It is planning to create a Hezbollah-like militia in Yemen. To confront Riyadh’s hostile policies….Iran needs to use all its cards.”

Iran officially rejects claims that it is giving financial and military support to the Houthis in the civil war. A Houthi leader asserted, “The Saudis don’t want to admit their failings so they are searching for false justifications…after two years of the aggression that the United States and Britain are involved in.”

But Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, insisted:

We don’t lack information or evidence that the Iranians, by various means, are smuggling weapons into the area.

We observe that the Kornet anti-tank weapon is on the ground, whereas before it wasn’t in the arsenal of the Yemeni army or of the Houthis. It came later.