A New Front Opens in the Red Sea

The Houthi rebels have affirmed their membership in the “Axis of Resistance” against the U.S. and Israel with their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. This latest escalation opens a new theater of combat in the Middle East war.

The air strikes, which hit military bases, airfields and other targets early on Friday morning, certainly cannot have surprised the Houthi militia in Yemen.

The Houthis had been attacking and attempting to capture ships in the Red Sea for months. They had also fired missiles and drones at Israel, threatening to continue doing so until the administration in Jerusalem ends the war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Only a few weeks ago, President Joe Biden ruled out mounting a direct attack on the Houthis, citing the risk of a further escalation in the Middle East conflict as too high.

Then, at the beginning of the week, the U.S. and Britain made it clear to the Houthis that any more attacks on ships would provoke a direct response. On Wednesday, the Houthis fired a barrage of rockets at vessels in the Red Sea. Then came the response.

’A Clear Message’ from the Americans and Their Partners

The strikes early on Friday morning were “a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” President Biden told the press.

Radar surveillance capabilities, missile and drone launch sites and arms depots were hit, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin explained. The United Kingdom also played a direct role in the military operation, while the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Bahrain provided logistical and intelligence support, according to U.S. officials.

Apart from Bahrain, no other Arab state joined the military coalition. Indeed, there was virtually no criticism of the Houthi attacks in recent weeks. Even Egypt kept its counsel, although 2,000 ships had already been rerouted around the southern coast of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope instead of traveling through the Suez Canal — at a huge loss of revenue to the country. Saudi Arabia also remained largely silent. Since 2014, it had been waging a bitter, eight-year-long war against the Tehran-backed Houthis and had recently hoped a peace treaty was imminent. On Friday, the Saudi royal family even appealed for “restraint.”

The Houthis Form Part of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ against the US And Israel

The Islamist Houthi militia retains control over broad areas of northern Yemen as well as the capital, Sanaa. It forms part of the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel and the U.S., which is supported and partly directed by Iran and also includes Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon and groups operating in Iraq and Syria.

The Houthis have been armed massively by Tehran in recent years. They also have their own distinctive agenda; however, notwithstanding these ties, Hamas’ acts of terror and the attacks on shipping in the Red Sea give the rebels a great opportunity to portray themselves to the Yemeni people as true defenders of the Palestinian cause.

The Houthis have not been especially popular in Yemen recently amid protests against corruption and economic mismanagement. Israel has now become the overriding topic, bringing millions out onto the streets to demonstrate and recruiting thousands to the armed struggle.

If peace negotiations were to resume with the Saudis, the Houthis would most likely demand further concessions. They are hoping to gain more. In any event, the fighters are not inclined to give up. “America and Britain will undoubtedly have to prepare to pay a heavy price and bear all the dire consequences of this blatant aggression,” an official Houthi spokesperson said. President Biden also warned of further possible strikes.

About this publication

About Anna Wright 22 Articles
I am a London-based translator, who got properly hooked on languages and regional affairs, while studying German and Russian at Edinburgh University, followed later by an MA in Politics, Security and Integration at UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies. I have worked in Language Services for many years and hold a Postgraduate Diploma in Translation from the Open University.

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