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May 29, 2024

US and allies strike Houthi rebels after attacks, prompting vows of retaliation

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Jan 15, 2024

The US and allies have conducted a series of airstrikes against Houthi rebel targets in Yemen over the past week. The strikes come after the Iran-backed Houthis launched attacks against commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea. The Houthis have vowed retaliation, raising fears of further escalation in the conflict.

Background on the Houthis and Yemen conflict

The Houthis are an Islamist militant group that seized control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014. They have been engaged in a civil war against the internationally recognized government since then. Key points:

  • The Houthis adhere to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam and have ties to Iran, receiving funding, weapons and training. Iran supports them as part of its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia.
  • In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to try to oust the Houthis and restore the government. The US, UK and France have provided varying levels of support to the coalition.
  • Yemen, already the Arab world’s poorest country, has experienced the world’s worst humanitarian crisis due to the civil war. Over 150,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

The UN has been trying unsuccessfully to broker a ceasefire deal between the warring parties. Fighting has raged with fluctuating intensity despite intermittent attempts at peace.

Timeline of recent attacks and US response

January 6

The Houthis seize a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo vessel, the RWABEE, off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. They allege it was engaged in “hostile acts”, carrying military equipment.

January 9

The Houthis hijack another vessel, the Emirati-flagged Amana.

January 10

The US Navy reports the Houthis have attacked a commercial tanker with an explosive drone in the southern Red Sea.

January 11

The Saudi-led coalition launches airstrikes on Houthi military targets around Hodeidah port.

January 11-12

The US military carries out precision airstrikes on 3 Houthi sites using fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles fired from a submarine.

The UK’s Royal Air Force confirms contributing fighter jets to strike Houthi storage facilities.

January 13

The US conducts a second wave of strikes on Houthi coastal defense systems. Saudi Arabia carries out more airstrikes.

January 15

The Houthis fire a cruise missile at a US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea. The US says it shot the missile down.

Date Attacks and responses
Jan 6 Houthis seize UAE vessel
Jan 9 Houthis hijack another UAE vessel
Jan 10 Houthis drone attack tanker
Jan 11 Saudi coalition airstrikes Hodeidah
Jan 11-12 US precision strikes on Houthis
Jan 13 More US, Saudi strikes
Jan 15 Houthis fire missile at US warship

Reasons behind the US strikes

Analysts cite several key factors behind the US decision to directly strike the Houthis:

  • Safeguard shipping lanes: The Houthis have stepped up attacks in the Red Sea, a critical global shipping route for oil and goods. About one tenth of global trade passes through the area annually. The attacks threatened freedom of navigation.

  • Deter Iran: The strikes served to warn Iran over its support for proxy militias across the Middle East. The Houthis are funded and armed by Iran.

  • Support Saudi Arabia: As a strategic ally, the US wants to back Saudi efforts to counter Houthi attacks from Yemen on its territory.

  • Buoy Harper government: The new Conservative government in the UK likely welcomed a chance to demonstrate its alignment with US foreign policy.

Impact of the US strikes

The US airstrikes have:

  • Temporarily halted shipping: Tanker companies suspended sailings to Red Sea ports but most have now resumed services. Traffic remains slower than normal.

  • Raised oil prices briefly: Oil prices spiked following the initial attacks but have moderated. Markets remain concerned about supply disruptions.

  • Hardened Houthi resolve: The rebels have pledged to retaliate and raided coalition supply lines in Yemen. However experts warn the strikes are unlikely to degrade Houthi military capabilities substantially or force them to compromise.

  • Risked regional escalation: The strikes could prompt Shiite militias in Iraq, Lebanon or Syria to target US interests. Iran may also retaliate more directly.

What comes next?

  • More Houthi attacks: The militants will likely step up assaults on shipping lanes as well as missile and drone strikes over Yemen’s borders.

  • Ongoing US & Saudi strikes: While unlikely to severely constrain Houthi capabilities, the US and allies will continue tactical strikes to deter attacks.

  • No polítical solution: There is no end in sight for the conflict without a negotiated settlement. But positions remain far apart as long as Iran continues backing the Houthis.

  • Worsening humanitarian crisis: Violence and instability will exacerbate food shortages, disease outbreaks and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Over 4 million Yemenis have been displaced by the fighting.

So in summary, while the US intervention has provided temporary reassurance to its allies, fundamentally it is unlikely to break the strategic stalemate that has trapped Yemen in a devastating civil war since 2014. Without a ceasefire and polítical process, civilians will continue bearing the brunt.

Further reading

Who are the Houthis and why is the US striking them?

Hezbollah sees all maritime navigation in danger after US strikes Yemen

The Houthis have survived worse than America’s and Britain’s strikes

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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