The Houthi are Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen who have launched drone and missile attacks on Israeli and American targets. The Houthis are a Zaidi Shia movement that began as a military rebellion against the Yemeni military in Northern Yemen. The conflict in Yemen is widely seen as a front of the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy war.
Iran has been an informal partner of the Houthis in the Yemeni civil war since 2014. In the early 1990s, Iran accommodated Houthi religious students, including Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who led the Houthi insurgency.
Following the departure of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, Iranian officials began to rhetorically support the Houthis.
The Houthi aim is to govern all of Yemen and support external movements against the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. They use the Burkan-2H (or Volcano-2H,) a mobile short-range ballistic missile.
The Houthi, Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen who have launched recent drone and missile attacks on Israeli and American targets, are emerging as an unpredictable and dangerous wild card in the Middle East — the proxies that Iran considers most suited to widening the war with Israel, reported New York Times on December 8.
Analysts close to the Iranian government said the Houthis’ base in Yemen makes them ideally positioned to escalate fighting in the region in the hopes of pressuring Israel to end its war with Hamas in Gaza.
The Houthis, the analysts said, are Iran’s chosen proxies because, from Yemen, they are both close enough to the Red Sea’s strategic waterways to disrupt global shipping and far enough from Israel to make retaliatory strikes difficult. Unlike Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group that has struck Israel from Lebanon, the Houthi are not beholden to domestic political dynamics — making them effectively accountable to no one.
On December 31, the first deadly clash between the US and Tehran’s terror proxy took place in Yemen. A Maersk container vessel sent out distress calls that it was under fire from the Houthi.
As American choppers hovered over the targets, the Houthi militia focused fire on them. In retaliation, the choppers came into action, resulting in the sinking of three ships and the killing of 10 Houthi fighters.
Mark Wallace, chief executive officer of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), said the US Navy destroying three Houthi boats in the Red Sea was a major turning point in the crisis.
The US Central Command described the US Navy’s response as “self-defense,” though Wallace, the former US Ambassador to the UN, told The Sun that the time for self-defense has passed. The former Ambassador went on to say that “the Houthis are basking in the glory of international attention. They are empowered, highly armed by Iran, and have shown no sign of stopping their attacks.”
Wallace opined that it was wrong to wait for a Houthi attack and said the US “needs to send a clear message to the Houthi and Iran that their Red Sea attacks are unacceptable.” He stressed that it was a miscalculation to wait for them to attack. “We need to change the rules of engagement — to make it clear that if they get near US assets, we will destroy them.”
John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN and US National Security advisor, noted that the evidence about Iran striking a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean with a drone is of huge importance, as it should command the next move of Washington and London.
In a comment piece for the Daily Telegraph on December 25, he wrote, “Obviously, Tehran does not feel pressured enough to restrain its expendable surrogates, proving that the West has not established conditions for deterrence, thereby potentially cooling this conflict down.” He argues that Tehran has miscalculated not only about Israel but about President Biden and the West more generally.
In recent weeks, Yemeni Houthis have also been terrorizing the Red Sea and threatening the global economy by attacking commercial shipping vessels, taking, so far, 25 crew members of an Israeli-linked cargo hostage.
Houthis On War Path
The incident of December 31 is not an isolated one. It comes amid a wave of attacks on ships traveling through one of the world’s biggest shipping lanes.
Late on December 30, a US warship was also forced to shoot down two ballistic missiles fired from Yemen. Houthi are controlling a large part of Yemen. They say that in solidarity with Hamas; they will attack all vessels that they believe are linked to Israel or headed to Israeli ports. Wallace says it is a systematic effort by Iran and its proxies to attack the US and its allies…“and it needs to be seen as that, reported the NYT.
The point is that Houthi are dancing to the tune of Iran. They are not in a position to acquire the type of sophisticated weapons, rockets, and missiles on their own unless these items are supplied to them by a benefactor, which undoubtedly is no country other than Iran, Retired US General Ben Hodges, who was formerly the commander of the US Army in Europe, agreed that “taking direct action against the threat of the militia in the Red Se was long overdue. We should have never gotten to this point.”
The Houthi military spokesman, Yahya Saree, said that the US would bear the consequences of the attack on its vessels. The group also warned that any other countries that threatened them would face “negative repercussions.”
UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said, “This morning’s atrocious attack by the Iranian-backed Houthi was an unacceptable and outrageous act designed to destabilize global trade. The Houthi must end their illegal campaign against merchant shipping and stop all violent attacks immediately.”
Importance Of The Red Sea
The Iran-supported Houthi are posing a threat to world trade by endangering the movement of commercial ships through the Red Sea. The Red Sea serves an important role in the global economy, with cargo vessels traveling between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea every year, thus shortening the path between Asia and Europe almost by half (as compared to traveling around Africa via the Atlantic Ocean).
Tucked between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan, the Red Sea is an entryway to the Suez Canal and one of the world’s key global trade corridors, overseeing some 12 percent of global trade and nearly one-third of global container traffic. December 21, 2023.
Kerman Blast An Eye Opener
On January 3, two huge bomb blasts occurred in Kerman, the Iranian city about 800 kilometers (497 miles) to the southeast of Tehran. A huge crowd had assembled to pay homage to General Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds force who was killed by a guided missile fired by the American air force.
A blast took place at the burial ground where people in large numbers had assembled. Fifteen minutes later, another bomb blast occurred. According to the latest reports, nearly 100 people have been killed, and 141 have been wounded, many of whom may not survive.
No specific organization has accepted the responsibility, but “Arab separatists, Islamic State (IS) and other Sunni jihadist groups have said they have carried out deadly attacks on security forces and Shia shrines in the country in recent years,” reported BBC.
The Washington Post said the blasts on Wednesday came amid intensifying involvement by Iranian-backed militant groups in a confrontation with Israel and its principal backer, the United States, during Israel’s war in Gaza. It is to be noted that two days ago, the deputy chief of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, was killed in a blast in Beirut.
This shows that the situation in the Middle East is fast deteriorating. Whosoever is responsible for the Kerman blasts, one thing is clear. War by proxy could prove much more disastrous than a direct clash. Proxy wars ultimately become suicidal.
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views Personal.
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