How the Iranbacked Houthis are dragging the US into an

How the Iranbacked Houthis are dragging the US into an unwinnable war

Man observes movement on the high seas

Credit, U.S. Department of Defense


An Iranianfunded group has attacked more than 30 international merchant ships in the Red Sea since midNovember

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  • Author: Selin Girit and Kate Forbes
  • Role, BBC World Service
  • 9 minutes ago

There is no easy victory in sight for the international task force that brings together the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands and is trying to destroy Houthi rebel targets in Yemen.

The Iranianfunded group has attacked more than 30 international merchant ships in the Red Sea since midNovember and there are signs the attacks will continue.

The authorities responsible for the defense of the United States also appear to be firm in their intentions. In a statement released on January 23rd, they stated:

“We remain ready to take further measures to neutralize threats or respond to attacks, thereby ensuring the stability and security of the Red Sea region and international trade routes.”

A Houthi supporter holds a machine gun to a pickup truck during a protest near Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 25, 2024.

Credit, Portal


A Houthi supporter holds a machine gun in a pickup truck during a protest to condemn USled attacks on Houthi targets and show support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip

Will the United States be able to defeat a group that Saudi Arabia has unsuccessfully fought for nearly a decade?

The Saudi kingdom has remained remarkably quiet on issues in the Red Sea during peace talks with the Houthis.

Why are Britain and the US attacking Yemen?

The Greek bulk carrier Zografia was repaired in Ismailia, Egypt, on January 22 to repair damage caused by a Houthi missile attack six days earlier



The Greek bulk carrier Zografia was repaired in Ismailia, Egypt, on January 22 to repair damage caused by a Houthi missile attack six days earlier

Before the attacks, diplomatic negotiations with the Houthis attempted to deescalate the situation in the Red Sea, but without success.

“It is unfortunate that it has come to this,” said US special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking.

The Houthis control the most populous parts of Yemen. They claim their attacks are acts of solidarity with Palestinians following Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip.

In fact, they attack every ship within range, endangering their cargo and crew.

William Wechsler of the American think tank Atlantic Council believes that the US and Britain have no choice but to retaliate against the attacks with their own forces.

“There are eight major maritime bottlenecks in international trade,” he explains. “Half of it is in the Middle East, which is also the most important region in the world in terms of energy sources.”

“The Houthis have directly threatened one of these points [o estreito Bab elMandeb] in an extremely unusual way,” said Wechsler.

“Anyone who understands the role energy plays in supporting our livelihoods, anyone who cares about economic growth anywhere, must understand the importance of protecting these critical bottlenecks.”

How resilient are the Houthi forces?

Men show weapons during the protest

Credit, Portal


The Houthis protested to condemn USled attacks on Houthi targets and to show support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip

The rebel group has already proven that it can confront the army of a sovereign state: Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis have evolved. Thanks to Iranian support, they evolved from an illequipped rebel group into a trained fighting force with stateoftheart equipment, including helicopters.

“Resilience consists of two components,” explains Wechsler. “There is the will and the ability. Nobody believes they will break the will.” [dos houthis]. But it is believed that we can overcome their abilities.”

The Houthis may have succeeded in taking on a larger adversary, but fighting the United States and its international allies is an entirely different pretext. After all, their power, strategy and collective experience are much greater than the Saudis.

The question among analysts is how far the US will go next.

“We have a lot of power and we have to use it according to certain criteria,” Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei, chairman of African and Middle East studies at the Council on International Relations, a USbased research and debate center, told the press . .

“We're not talking about … the invasion of Yemen, regime change and the things we've done in the past,” Cook explains.

“I have to say that I recently spoke to several Arab officials who said: You know, if you just attack the Houthis, you won't stop. “You have to carry out this kind of military action.” This makes it difficult or even impossible for the Houthis to harass and attack ships in the Gulf.”

Could the US and its allies become embroiled in a long regional war?

U.S. Navy men during a patrol in the Gulf of Aden

Credit, U.S. Department of Defense


The USS Mason is patrolling the Gulf of Aden as part of Operation Prosperity

“This action is likely to escalate into a larger operation against Iran’s malign influence,” said retired U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Foggo III of the Center for Maritime Strategies. The admiral is also a former commander of American naval forces in Europe and Africa.

“And that’s an issue that the government hasn’t really discussed publicly. I’m sure they’re talking about it.”

Foggo reminded the audience at a recent press conference of the 198088 oil tanker case in the Persian Gulf. The US attacked the Iranian navy after the Iranians attacked oil tankers.

Admiral Foggo further compared the incident to the attack on the USS Cole, which was attacked off the coast of Yemen in October 2000, resulting in the deaths of 17 American sailors. The attack was attributed to alQaeda, but there was no military response against the group.

“What happened a year later? “September 11th,” he said, underlining his opinion that military action was necessary.

Steven A. Cook agrees. For him, “freedom of navigation is an important interest of the United States, and allowing a group like this to have so much power over this region is too great a risk.”

What involvement does Iran have in the Houthis' actions in the Red Sea?

A pickup truck carries a large banner with the image of the Houthis' main leader, AbdulMalik AlHouthi (d), during an antiUS and antiIsrael protest on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen



A pickup truck carries a large banner with the image of the Houthis' main leader, AbdulMalik AlHouthi (d), during an antiUS and antiIsrael protest on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen

Iran provides weapons and financial support to the Houthis, but they are not directly controlled by Tehran.

Ray Takeyh, the Hasib J. Sabbagh Chair in Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, claims that “they…developed their antiAmerican and antiIsrael policies of their own accord.”

“They were not instigated in this direction by the Iranians. So in that sense they are not the creation of Iran,” Takeyh explains. “This is a kind of coalition of likeminded people… It actually came about as an opportunistic attempt to harm the Saudis.”

The Houthis are important to Iran because they allow the country to increase its pressure on Israel through the United States.

According to Takeyh, Iran is banking on the fear of the international community and the United States that the conflict could escalate to the point where some sort of agreement could be forced on the Israelis.

According to him, “The central premise is that the international community and the United States can impose restrictions on Israel. Israel is a sovereign country facing a very complicated situation. It’s a traumatized country.”

What is an “unwinnable” war?

Man gives the signal for a taxi to an American plane

Credit: US Navy/EPA


The US is conducting air operations in response to increasing Houthi activity in the Red Sea

US President Joe Biden's Yemen strategy aims to weaken the Houthi fighters but is far from defeating the group or directly confronting its main backer (Iran), according to experts.

This strategy a mix of sanctions and limited military strikes appears aimed at punishing the Houthis while trying to limit the risk of a wider conflict in the Middle East.

“I don’t think this mission is necessarily aimed at destroying the Houthis or restoring the Yemeni government to power,” said Brian Carter of the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

“I think it was created to reduce the Houthis’ naval and military capabilities and prevent them from disrupting global shipping in the Red Sea.”

For Carter, “damaging military systems is not an impossible task. It is a completely achievable military goal.”

The American special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, also emphasizes that this is “not a borderless confrontation.”

“It’s just meant to destroy the Houthis’ ability to attack ships,” he explains.

The Pentagon says it has destroyed or damaged more than 20 missiles and more than 25 missile installation and launch facilities since the United States began attacking Houthi military installations in Yemen on January 11.

The agency also says it has already hit Houthi drones, coastal radars and air surveillance systems, as well as weapons depots.

Is the conflict giving the Houthis new impetus?

Houthi supporters hold banners depicting Houthi fighters killed in the recent USled bombing

Photo credit: EPAEFE/REX/Shutterstock


Houthi supporters hold banners depicting fighters killed in the latest USled bombing

Tim Lenderking says the Houthis may want to be drawn into this war.

He told the BBC that the Houthis see this war as a way to show the Yemeni public that they are not just defending the Palestinian people but taking a stand against the West.

BBC security reporter Frank Gardner says the Houthis have become popular with many people in the Arab world because of their alleged support of Hamas as part of the Iranbacked “Axis of Resistance” against Israel.

In the newly named Operation Poseidon's Archer, USled strikes hit new targets following a series of preemptive strikes against Houthi launch sites. According to the Pentagon, these strikes destroyed missiles as they were being prepared for launch.

Western intelligence agencies recently estimated that at least 30% of the Houthis' missile stockpile had been destroyed or damaged.

But the Houthis are likely to continue their attacks on ships suspected of being linked to Israel, the US or the UK. According to Gardner, they have given the group wide popularity in Yemen, where there are many citizens dissatisfied with their brutal regime.

Hisham AlOmeisy, Yemen adviser at the European Peace Institute, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that many people may not realize that the Houthis actually have goals of their own beyond supporting Gaza.

The recent clashes also gave the Houthis an opportunity to legitimize their decadeslong willingness to fight against the United States.

For AlOmeisy, the Houthis “are not only winning minds and hearts, they have also successfully launched a mass recruitment program for the 'Battle of Promised Conquest and Holy Jihad'.”

“It would be incredibly shortsighted to look purely from a military perspective and not take into account the sociopolitical impact, repercussions and local reactions in a place where antiUS and antiUK sentiment is now much more intense than usual.”