Who are the Houthis and why we need to know this now? Well with three attempted attack appearing to have been launched from Yemen toward Israel, its time to pay attention.
For some reason the Houthis — a rebel group based in Yemen — have threatened to get involved in the Israel-Hamas war. The question is why?
Aside from the organization’s slogan — “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curse upon the Jews, victory to Islam” — what is its interest in a far-away conflict?
On Oct. 19, a U.S. warship intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement from Yemen. The Pentagon said they may have been targeted at Israel. A spokesman said: “We cannot say for certain what these missiles and drones were targeting, but they were launched from Yemen heading north along the Red Sea, potentially towards targets in Israel.”
Then, on Oct. 27, two more attacks by drones launched from the south of the Red Sea, according to Egyptian and Israeli officials, hit towns in Egypt, shy of Israel by about 40 miles (Nuweiba) and 6 miles (Taba). Six people were injured. Israel’s Foreign Ministry blamed the Houthi organization.
The potential involvement of the Houthis in the Israel-Gaza war is another factor which will concern world leaders trying to prevent the violence spilling over into a wider Middle East conflict. This is one of the many groups, one of the many Iranians proxies that we need to keep an eye on as the war between Israel and Hamas develops.
So who are the Houthis exactly? The organization’s formal name is: Anṣār Allāh (“Defenders of God”). They are Shiite but a specific sect: Zaydi or Zaydiyyah. Shiite Muslims are the minority of Muslims in the world compared to Sunnis. Zaydis are a minority within the Shiite minority. Iran is the leader of the Shiite world but the Houthis are different even from them.
In recent history, the Houthi rebels have been embroiled in a civil war that started in 2015 in Yemen for control of the government. Their main opposition comes from Saudi Arabia.
Both sides have been accused of war crimes and the Saudi air and naval blockade of Houthi-controlled territory is believed to have created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, with millions of Yemenis at dire risk of starvation and disease. In 2021, the UN estimated the war had caused 377,000 deaths through direct and indirect causes such as poor food security and a collapse of public services. The agency also says more than 11 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. Hundreds of children have been killed by Houthi-laid landmines and explosive devices.
The Houthis are allied with Iran, which basically pits Iran vs Saudi Arabia. They have also fired missiles at Saudi Arabia and the UAE in recent years.
Many Yemenis see the Houthis as patriots fighting the country’s traditional enemy Saudi Arabia, America and Israel.
Today the Houthis control “one-third of the country’s territory, which contains 70% to 80% of the population.” The history and the politics here are complex and I won’t attempt explain that all here. And the humanitarian disaster is the most under-reported in the world.
The question is, are they are a proxy or an ally of Iran? Does Iran supply them with weapons and training? How formidable a force are they?
In addition to their association with Iran, the Houthis are also associated with Hamas: The Counter Extremism Project points out: “Higher-ups in the Houthi movement have expressed support for Hamas. Before he was killed in 2004, Houthis founder Hussein al-Houthi made it a point to praise Hamas for its wars against Israel.”
Also, CEP says that Hamas “maintains a representative in Houthi-held territory in Yemen.”
On Oct 10, three days after the Israel-Gaza conflict began, Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned the group would respond to U.S. involvement by firing drones and missiles.
“There are red lines when it comes to Gaza” and that the Houthis were ready to coordinate with other groups and intervene,” he said.