Over the past week, tensions have escalated between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and the US and allied forces. The Houthis have stepped up attacks on commercial ships passing through the Red Sea, disrupting global trade and prompting military retaliation from the US and UK. As the situation intensifies, lawmakers are pressing President Biden to seek Congressional approval before further strikes.
Recent Attacks on Commercial Shipping
On January 25th, the Houthis launched missiles and explosive drone attacks on the oil terminal of the port city of Mokha in Yemen, located along the Red Sea coast. This attack represented the third Houthi strike on the facility over the past 10 days . The following day on the 26th, the Houthis fired additional missiles at a tanker off the coast of the port city of Hodeidah, also located on Yemen’s Red Sea coast .
These attacks are part of a broader Houthi campaign targeting commercial shipping vessels transiting through the Red Sea, a critical global trade route. Over $1.4 billion worth of goods pass through the Red Sea daily, including around 8% of global petroleum shipments . By striking vessels in these waters, the Houthis are disrupting the flow of energy and other crucial commodities around the world.
US and Allies Retaliate Militarily
In response to the Houthis’ attacks on shipping, the US military, supported by British allies, has undertaken several rounds of airstrikes targeting Houthi military infrastructure.
The first strikes occurred on January 23rd, when US and British warplanes bombed several Houthi facilities including weapons storage sites around Yemen’s capital Sanaa. Additional underground targets were hit in the port city of Hodeidah .
|Weapons storage sites in Sanaa, underground targets in Hodeidah
|Missile launch sites in Sanaa
|Military training camp in Red Sea port city
More strikes took place on January 26th, focused on missile launch sites around Sanaa that were being used to attack shipping in the Red Sea .
Most recently on January 27th, US and British warplanes bombed a Houthi military training camp in an unspecified Red Sea port city .
Overall, these retaliatory strikes seem aimed at degrading the Houthis’ capacity to threaten commercial shipping, while avoiding even wider conflict. However, they risk further escalating tensions and pull the US into more direct confrontation.
Mounting Pressure for Congressional Approval
As the situation intensifies, President Biden is facing growing calls from lawmakers to seek Congressional authorization before conducting additional military strikes against the Houthis.
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been particularly vocal, arguing that continued attacks without consulting Congress raise “serious legal questions” .
Others like Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have condemned the strikes more broadly, tweeting: “Congress has never authorized the President to continue supporting the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It needs to stop.” 
So far the Biden administration has defended the strikes as authorized under Article II of the Constitution and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force passed after 9/11. However, lawmakers dispute whether either justification applies when no US forces are directly threatened.
The administration will likely face ongoing pressure from Congress to seek explicit authorization as it considers future actions against the Houthis. This could limit Biden’s military options going forward.
In the near-term, all sides seem poised to continue retaliatory attacks. The Houthis held a large public parade on January 29th, with leaders giving defiant speeches claiming they would never back down to US “aggression” . Meanwhile, US defense officials have warned of plans for further strikes if the Houthis persist in targeting commercial shipping .
In the longer run, some analysts worry the situation risks spiraling into an even wider regional conflagration. The Houthis are often described as an Iranian proxy militia. So continued direct US strikes may compel Iran to respond more forcefully itself .
Ultimately the path ahead depends heavily on decisions from both Washington and Tehran. Without a shift towards de-escalation, the Red Sea could become a flashpoint threatening global economic and energy security.
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