Image Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Yemen at War

By Nicholas Gardner

The Glasgow Guardian looks at who Yemen’s Houthis are and why the United States and Britain are bombing Yemen.

On Sunday 19 November, military soldiers known as Houthis – or more officially, Ansar Allah (translating literally to Supporters of God) – hijacked an Israeli-controlled commercial vessel and brought it to port on the west coast of Yemen. Since then, Houthis have attacked more than 30 vessels in the Red Sea, a pivotal trade passage accounting for 12% of global trade, with the stated military objective of “[compelling] Israel to cease its crimes against humanity in Gaza and allow entry of food, medicine, and fuel to its people.”

In response, the four largest shipping companies in the world rerouted all traffic from the Red Sea to a longer and more costly journey around Africa. In response, the Israeli-allied US and Britain deployed Naval forces to Yemen, before eight rounds of bombings.

The Houthi (translating literally to The Believing Youth) movement began in the 1990s as a grassroots Zaydi Shia revivalist movement, formed with the aim of preventing the spread of Sunni Salafism from Saudi Arabia. In 2004, their leader and parliamentarian, Hussien al-Houthi, was killed by government forces under the Saudi-aligned and long-standing president Saleh, which provoked six wars between Houthis and the State. In 2011, during the Arab spring revolts, Houthis disarmed and joined mass peaceful protests calling for Saleh’s resignation, leading to his replacement by his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in the ‘Gulf Initiative’ referendum, which featured him as the only candidate.

Hadi would later be expelled to Saudi Arabia after Houthis launched a coup in 2014 against Hadi’s provisional government, forcing him into exile. Hadi would act as a Saudi Puppet ruler, “authorising” a US-Saudi coalition war against Yemen in a bid to destroy the anti-Zionist, Iranian-aligned faction, to restore the Initiative government.

The Saudis, with almost all their weapons and essential logistics support from the US and Britain, plunged Yemen into the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, according to the United Nations. The extensive use of heavy weaponry and a total blockade of Yemen lead to starvation and insufficiencies in medical resources, causing more than 377,000 deaths. The Saudis deliberately targeted health and water facilities on average every 10 days according to Oxfam, along with marketplaces, school buses, and funeral halls. According to the UN Development Program, Yemen is now becoming one of the world’s poorest countries, with 70% of Yemen’s population relying on humanitarian aid for survival. Unfortunately, Yemen still hasn’t recovered from the war with Saudi Arabia despite the recent truce – why, then, are the Houthis taking such a bold action by declaring war on the US and potentially derailing the fragile truce with Saudi Arabia?

Houthis are a member of the ‘Axis of resistance’, a coalition led by Iran with participating armed groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Lebanon-based Hezbollah (Party of God), and Hamas in the Gaza strip. The coalition’s aim is to fight against American power projection in their region, such as in the heavily militarised Israel, and vows for the restoration of the rights and land of the Palestinians. They see the task of restoring Palestinian rights as the collective responsibility of the Islamic Ummah, or the Muslim community. Spokesman and senior Houthi political official Mohammed al-Bukhaiti stated that the Red Sea attacks are to “pressure Israel” to cease its assault on Gaza and lift the siege.

However, the Houthis have also discovered a political goldmine in attacking shipping. Even if the political class in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are friendly to the US and Israel, the Zionist project remains a wound on the popular conscience of many Arabs, who see it as an injustice. Yemen has been especially vocal about its support for Palestine, and the Red Sea attacks have been overwhelmingly popular in the region. Houthis have reported an increase in recruitment since the attacks, and have deployed 50,000 soldiers around Marib, the last stronghold of the coalition government. The Red Sea attacks could therefore give them popular support to unify Yemen under ‘Houthi’ rule.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia seems anxious about the possibility of restarting war with Yemen, and refused to join the US-led response to the Houthis. This is likely due to them being unwilling to risk more damage to oil refineries they incurred during the previous war, or perhaps due to fear of a wider regional war which could be costly. This cautious stance was expressed by halting the normalisation deal with Israel after October 7. As a result, it is suggested that Egypt could be moved to act, as the diverted shipping from the Red Sea is costing them hundreds of millions of dollars, as the toll for each commercial vessel rerouted is around 500,000 USD.

The US State Department recently rebranded Houthis as a terrorist group. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in the press release that “the recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen threatens the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners, and violates international law”.

Neither US-led airstrikes nor a terrorist label have deterred Houthis from their campaign in the Red Sea. They have continued their attacks, and likely believe it to be vital for them to continue, even if it is to the detriment of the wellbeing of Yemen’s 33 million people. In a poll of the West Bank and Gaza strip conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, Yemen had the highest approval rating of all regional actors (and world actors) at 80%.

If the US and Britain intensify their war in Yemen, it seems unlikely or even impossible that they would be able to defeat Houthis, given their surge in popularity and political strength since the Red Sea campaign. Eight years of proxy war through Saudi Arabia didn’t achieve this, so it is unlikely that another would work, especially due to Saudi Arabian apathy and the already overstretched US war machine.


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