The Houthis are strengthening their power in Yemen with strikes on the Red Sea to support Gaza

When former Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was still alive and in power in 2010, local authorities in the capital, Sanaa, organized a pageant to celebrate national unity, which was already tense at the time.

It’s only memorable because it was so weird.

Children dressed as villains represent the various threats facing the country. Wearing black robes and horror movie masks, they sneaked into the theater to steal the Yemeni flag… until children playing the role of Yemeni soldiers arrived to retrieve it.

Just four years later, one of the most depicted threats of the time – a tribal Shiite rebel group little known to the outside world at the time – swoops from its mountain bases in northern Yemen to seize the capital and oust Saleh’s successor.

A decade later, they inserted themselves on the world stage by attacking international shipping lines in the Red Sea, in what they say was an act of solidarity with Palestinians being bombed by Israel in Gaza.

Analysts say this is a strategy that wins the Houthis new recruits in a country where they control two-thirds of the population, often through brutal means.

“There have been protests and support for Palestinians in the past, but you haven’t seen a specific group trying to exploit that to increase recruitment, or, you know, trying to mobilize the public,” said Bara Shiban, a Yemeni citizen. A human rights activist and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.

watched How the Houthis challenged the United States:

How did the Houthis challenge the United States? About that

As Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to disrupt global shipping traffic and attack ships in the Red Sea, the United States is responding. Andrew Chang outlines the risks of further escalation in the region, and how far both sides are willing to go.

Chaiban says they are also using anger over the US and UK decision to launch air strikes against Houthi targets to distract from growing criticism at home.

He added, “People began to put pressure (on the Houthis) regarding paying salaries and fulfilling their humanitarian obligations.” “This is an easy way to first distract attention, and then secondly, try to quash any possibility of people protesting or showing dissatisfaction with their rule.”

A fragile truce in Yemen

Ahmed Naji, a senior analyst specializing in Yemeni affairs at the International Crisis Group, agrees with this opinion.

He added: “This Gaza war was a way out for the Houthis to tell people, ‘Don’t talk about anything at this moment because we are in a state of war and there is something more important than internal issues.'”

Houthi arrests of activists and outspoken critics have increased in recent weeks.

Naji said: “No one paid this much attention to this type of arrest because everyone is busy with what is happening in Gaza and what the Houthis are doing in the Red Sea.”

After the Houthis seized power in Sanaa in 2014, Yemen fell into a civil war that became a proxy battle between the Saudi-led coalition supporting the ousted government, which moved to the southern city of Aden, and Iran, which backed the Houthis. .

According to UN figures, an estimated 377,000 people were killed in the conflict by 2022, with 60% of deaths attributed to indirect causes, including famine and lack of health care.

A boy turns his back to the camera and looks at the mountainous landscape with badly damaged buildings in the foreground.
A Yemeni child looks at damaged buildings in an airstrike on the southern Yemeni city of Taiz in 2018. (Ahmed Al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images)

An uneasy truce – or lull in the fighting – has held since April 2022. Many now fear that the Red Sea crisis will reignite the fighting in Yemen and throw the country deeper into a humanitarian catastrophe than it has come close to. to get out of.

The World Food Program says that 1.3 million pregnant and breastfeeding women and 2.2 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition.

Last month, 26 aid agencies issued a joint warning, saying any disruption to aid distribution would be catastrophic.

The statement said: “Political leaders must take into account the dire humanitarian repercussions of the military escalation, and refrain from actions that may lead to the renewal of large-scale armed conflict in Yemen.” He added, “The recent escalation also highlights the risk of a broader regional and international confrontation that could undermine the fragile peace process in Yemen and long-term recovery.”

Fears of a “new spiral of violence”

The Houthi militia ordered aid workers holding British or American passports to leave the country. Some NGOs are now re-evaluating security issues in the wake of Western air strikes.

“A new cycle of violence would be a real disaster,” prominent human rights activist Radhya al-Mutawakel said in a phone interview from Sanaa. “Not only in Houthi-controlled areas, but in all of Yemen.”

“People are waiting for a political agreement, not a new war.”

She insists that an agreement was within reach before the current events, at least between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia.

Al-Mutawakel heads an NGO called Mwatana for Human Rights in Yemen, which catalogs rights violations in many different forms. In December, Houthi officials and others from the organization prevented her from leaving the country on a business trip.

She says they are used to being harassed. He added, “We cover all of Yemen, which is controlled by various armed groups and who are committing horrific violations, including the Houthis.”

A cargo ship in the port with an inflatable rubber boat nearby.
A Coast Guard boat sails past a commercial container ship anchored in the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen, in this file photo taken on February 25, 2023. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Other groups range from Al Qaeda affiliates in the south to the Islamic State to pro-government militias, including a brigade called the Giants Brigade, which is mainly made up of Salafist tribesmen and funded by the UAE.

“We are trying to make ourselves as (safe) as possible by being very independent and neutral and having very good relations with many international (organizations),” Al-Mutawakkil said.

She described the response of Washington and London to the Houthi attacks as flawed.

“(It) will not protect the Red Sea,” she said. He added, “It will not defeat even an armed group. It is very difficult to fight a war with an armed group that has never been defeated (during) nine years of war.”

Especially the group that has been strengthened over the years with Iran’s help.

Seeking a greater regional role

Baraa Shaiban says that the Houthis’ movements in the Red Sea raised them on the ladder of the Iranian “axis of resistance”, which consists of regional militias.

He says he is talking about the ambition of the Houthis.

“They want to control the rest of Yemen,” Shaiban said. “The second thing is that they want to play a bigger role in the region. They believe that they can play an important role, just like Hezbollah, and they cannot be contained only within Yemen.”

So far, the Houthis have remained undeterred in the face of Western air strikes.

US Central Command said on Thursday that it had struck a ground monitoring station in Yemen and 10 Houthi drones that it said “posed an imminent threat” to commercial ships and US Navy ships in the region.

The previous day, a Houthi spokesman said the group would continue to attack American and British warships in the Red Sea “in self-defense.”

watched US and British forces target Houthi rebels in Yemen:

The United States and Britain launched air strikes targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen

Military forces from the United States and the United Kingdom launched airstrikes on sites in Yemen late Thursday, saying the strikes targeted areas containing radar, missile and drone capabilities used by Iran-backed Houthi forces to attack ships in the Red Sea.

Shiban says that the Houthis have shown that they are able to fight, but not their ability to rule.

But not all criticism in Yemen is directed at the Houthis. far from it. The internationally recognized government is now run by a council of ministers based in Aden called the Presidential Leadership Council. It also includes the Southern Transitional Council, which in turn consists of separatist tribal groups from the south, some of which are funded by the UAE.

“(The Southern Transitional Council wants) to have its own negotiating team, far from the internationally recognized government,” Ahmed Naji said, if and when the time comes for the warring parties in Yemen to negotiate a long-term and comprehensive peace agreement.

For now, this possibility seems frozen.

Al-Mutawakkil said, “The Houthis are a fanatical armed group.” “But they are not the only extremist armed group in Yemen.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *