Yemen’s Houthi rebel group has threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. They backed up their announcement with actual attacks on several ships in the Red Sea, using ballistic missiles and drones.
The Houthis have stressed that their attacks are aimed at forcing Israel to stop shelling Gaza and help ensure the delivery of food and water to the Gaza Strip.
The Houthi movement was established in northern Yemen, where most people follow Zaydism, a form of Shiite Islam. Zaydi imams fought for control of southern Arabia for centuries and created a sovereign state in 1918. Imams ruled the country until 1962, when a republic was proclaimed as a result of the military coming to power. In subsequent years, the Zaydi areas became poorer than the Sunni-dominated central areas.
In the late twentieth century, the peaceful Sunni movement was led by Hussein al-Houthi. In 2011, during the Arab Spring, the Houthis seized control of Saada, a province in northern Yemen, and took the name Ansar Allah (“Defenders of God”). In 2014, they took control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, and have since fought Yemeni government forces backed by Saudi Arabia. In April 2022, a ceasefire agreement was signed, which is still in force.
The Houthis have demonstrated their ability to build arsenals of modern weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles.
The Ansar Allah movement has repeatedly announced that shelling of ships traveling to or from Israel will cease as soon as Israel stops bombing the Gaza Strip.
The Red Sea and Suez route account for 20% of the world’s container traffic and 10% of gas and oil traffic. Following several missile and drone launches by the Houthis, major container shipping companies have suspended shipping via the Red Sea. The cost of shipping containers from Asia to Europe has increased significantly and if this crisis is not resolved, it will lead to disruption in the supply chain.
Under these conditions, US officials followed a well-worn and tested path, namely the creation of military groups to punish the disobedient Houthis. Instead of putting pressure on its ally Israel and stopping the barbaric destruction of the population of Gaza, where the death toll has already exceeded 20 thousand people and all local residents are on the verge of disaster, the United States wants to create other international tensions. To do this, they deployed a vast armada of warships with their allies, which included the navies of ten countries. It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia and Egypt refused to participate in these hostilities against the Houthis. The Saudi kingdom is on the verge of signing an agreement to extend the ceasefire with the Houthis, which could end the war that has devastated Yemen for nine years.
“We are not the kind of people who are afraid of war,” said the leader of Yemen’s Houthis and warned that if they were attacked, they would strike back, according to the Egyptian press. He also condemned US support for Israel saying: “America is contributing and participating in what is happening in Gaza and blocking any UN decision on a ceasefire.”
The Western press talks a lot about the possible losses that Israel and Europe will suffer if attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea continue. Many companies have already redirected their ships from Asia to Europe around Africa. The British Economist calls this a new Suez crisis.
Some Arab newspapers are expressing hope that the crisis will be quickly resolved if the UN Security Council eventually adopts resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Houthi representatives constantly repeat that they will stop shelling vessels traveling to and from Israel as soon as Israel stops bombing the Gaza Strip.
It is noteworthy that some Western European newspapers, which also advocate an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, mention that in the current situation the idea of using the North Sea route through the Russian Antarctic, which is noticeably shorter than the route bypassing Africa, is again emerging.
Vladimir Mashin, Candidate of Historical Sciences, political commentator, exclusively for the internet journal “New Eastern Outlook”.