For the Houthis, it has been a case of nature combined with nurture.
Marran Mountains is where Houthi militia founder, Hussein Badr Al Deen al-Houthi, died and where the movement’s main military center came up during the first war with Saleh’s regime in 2004.
Located in Heidan district, west of Sadaa, Marran holds great historic and strategic value for the militias.
In other words, the mountains became their natural habitat to wage war from.
After the death of the Houthi founder, militias placed his statue on Marran and claimed the area as sacred. The site was destroyed by the legitimate forces soon after but this only increased the militias’ determination to preserve the land as their own.
Unable to maintain it as a holy site, militias transformed the mountains into a military barrack.
Since then, the Houthi militias have exploited the mountain’s natural landscape for geopolitical gains.
The region’s mountainous terrain and random cave rocks allow the militia to hide from the country’s legitimate force.
Back in 2004, when the first war against the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime erupted, Houthis were a small insurgent group with low-grade ammunition adopting guerrilla warfare tactics in Saada, and the Marran Mountains. The naturally formed mountain fortresses would further encourage them to use such techniques.
Houthi militias fought six wars against Saleh regime in the Yemeni province of Saada but their siege of Sanaa transformed this rag-tag group into a systematic force resembling the strength and structure of a traditional army.
The Houthis’ entry into Sanaa in September 2014, paved the way for a developed armament strategy. It allowed the militias to control several arms depots in the capital.
This, in addition to taking over the military through forced integration between insurgents and the Yemeni army, resulted in an increased number of Houthi foot soldiers and a grip on the countries’ existing military arsenal.
However, the growing size and strength of the militias raised speculation among the Yemeni community. UN reports and arms specialists reveal direct arming of the Houthis by Iran since 2009.
Arms sales and military expenditure expert, Pieter Wezeman, says that Houthis possess ballistic missiles with Iranian labels, which were fired at Saudi Arabia recently.
It became clear that Iran’s backing transformed the Houthis from guerilla militias to Yemen’s most powerful non-state militant group.
Against all odds
The legitimate forces, backed by the Arab Coalition, are fighting on five different fronts on the borders of Saudi Arabia against the Houthis in two provinces, both Saada and Hajjah. Additionally, they are currently surrounding the area of Marran, on two different fronts – Razih and Al Malahith – blocking all routes to the mountains.
In parallel, from a wider stance, the Coalition is currently closing in on other Houthi strongholds in the province of Saada.
According to Yemeni media, Marran includes a military center run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. This is where they have been nurtured.
Despite being at the advantage of fighting from their stronghold while being simultaneously provided with logistic consultation and additional manpower by Iran, the Houthis have suffered major losses in recent days.
But what happens if this balance of nature and nurture is upset? Are we getting to a stage where neither will save their situation for Houthis?