Khamenei in Tehran, March 2012.
Caren Firouz / Courtesy Reuters

When the Houthis, a Shia rebel group in Yemen, forced the country’s pro-Western president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to flee the capital this past January, many in the region concluded that another Arab state had fallen into Tehran’s lap—a result, as one prominent commentator put it, of Iran’s “offensive state, the likes of which we have not seen in modern history.”

That fear, articulated most forcefully by the Gulf states, probably overstates Iran’s role; turf wars have troubled Yemen for decades, and Tehran has never been a kingmaker there. It is true, however, that the Islamic Republic’s footprints have always marked Yemeni soil, even in the days of the Shah, who supported Yemeni fighters against militant Marxists in the 1960s. And that is still the case today. So, even if the coup itself says little about Iran’s regional ambitions, what Tehran does next—

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