Escalation in Yemen: U.S. and U.K. Launch Strikes Against Houthi Rebels

Feature and Cover Escalation in Yemen U S and U K Launch Strikes Against Houthi Rebels

In a significant escalation of the Middle East conflict, both the U.S. and U.K. conducted strikes against multiple Houthi rebel targets in Yemen on Thursday, January 11. This action follows the Houthis’ missile attacks on cargo ships passing through the Red Sea towards Israeli ports, initiated shortly after the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

Understanding the roots of the conflict involves delving into the Houthis’ resentment towards perceived corruption and mismanagement within the Yemeni government during the 2000s. This discontent manifested in several insurgencies against the government from 2004 to 2010. The Arab Spring in 2011 saw mass protests demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled for over three decades. After Saleh’s resignation, Saudi Arabia supported Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi as the new leader, leading to Houthi opposition and the onset of an ongoing civil war.

The Houthi rebels’ conflict with the Saudi-backed government strengthened their alignment with Iran, from which they receive some support. However, experts caution against labeling them as a direct proxy of Iranian interests.

“They do have a relationship with and support from Iran, but are not a straightforward proxy of Iranian interests. They have their own locally defined interests, and so I think that their actions in the past two months have reflected that,” remarked Philbrick Yadav to TIME in December.

The Houthi rebels’ recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea are strategic moves influenced by regional dynamics. In the Arab world, the Palestinian cause holds significant appeal, often symbolizing progressive values. By targeting Israeli ships, the Houthis aim to broaden their support base across Yemen and the Arab world. Additionally, the group seeks to disrupt the Saudi normalization with Israel, a diplomatic process that was in progress.

The involvement of the U.S. and U.K. in striking Yemen is rooted in the economic ramifications of the Houthi attacks on international maritime vessels. More than 80% of globally traded goods rely on cargo ships for transportation, given the cost-effectiveness compared to air travel for large items and bulk goods. The Red Sea serves as a crucial passage for ships accessing the Suez Canal, the sole waterway facilitating direct transit between Europe and Asia.

The Houthi attacks have led to a substantial increase in insurance prices for ships, prompting many shipping companies to opt for longer routes around the African continent as a safety measure. This adjustment is anticipated to elevate the prices of various consumer goods, from clothing to coffee.

President Biden underscored the necessity of the strikes in response to what he characterized as unprecedented Houthi attacks on international maritime vessels, including the deployment of anti-ship ballistic missiles. In a statement, he affirmed, “These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea—including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history. I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

This recent military intervention by the U.S. and U.K. signals a heightened involvement in the Middle East conflict and underscores the geopolitical complexities that continue to unfold in the region. As the situation develops, global attention remains focused on the evolving dynamics between the Houthi rebels, regional powers, and international actors.

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