In the opening weeks of 2024, the US and British unilaterally launched several large-scale missile and air strikes on targets in territory held by Ansar Allah (referred to as the “Houthis” across the Western media) in Yemen.
The strikes follow a campaign of missile strikes and boardings conducted by Ansar Allah against commercial shipping destined to and from Israel in response to Israel’s ongoing punitive operations in Gaza.
While the stated purpose of the US-British strikes are to protect commercial shipping, hostility of any kind in the Red Sea is likely to prompt international shipping companies to continue seeking out and using alternative routes until fighting of any kind subsides.
Indeed, according to Euronews Business, despite the US-British strikes on Ansar Allah, the CEO of Maersk, responsible for one-fifth of global maritime shipping, believes safely transiting the Red Sea is still months away.
Despite the political posturing that accompanied these attacks, strategically, they will do little to impact Ansar Allah’s fighting capacity. The political movement possesses a formidable military organization that has weathered years of full-scale war waged against it by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, backed by both the US and UK.
Not only did the US and UK encourage Saudi Arabia to sustain an air and ground war against Yemen, both Western nations contributed directly to Saudi Arabia’s war efforts.
The New York Times in a 2018 article titled, “Army Special Forces Secretly Help Saudis Combat Threat From Yemen Rebels” admitted that US special forces were operating, at a minimum, along the Saudi-Yemeni border, assisting Saudi Arabia’s armed forces in choosing targets.
The same article admits that the US was also lending assistance related to “aircraft refueling, logistics and general intelligence sharing.”
The Guardian in a 2019 article titled, “‘The Saudis couldn’t do it without us’: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war,” admitted to the scope of support provided by the UK to Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen. It included supplying weapons and munitions, thousands of maintenance contractors, pilot training, and even sending British troops to fight alongside Saudi soldiers in Yemen itself.
The scale of both Saudi Arabia’s own war on Yemen and the scale of US and British assistance to Saudi Arabia, including through the use of thousands of contractors and hundreds of soldiers on the ground, dwarfs the current missile and air strikes conducted by the US and British from the Red Sea. Even if the US and British significantly expanded their current missile and air strike campaign, it would still pale in comparison to the war that has been waged against Yemen in recent years.
Clearly then, the current US-British strikes on Yemen hold little prospect of deterring Ansar Allah, so why is the US and British carrying out these strikes anyway?
Washington’s True Motives for Striking Yemen
CNN in an article titled, “US and UK carry out strikes against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen,” would claim:
For weeks, the US had sought to avoid direct strikes on Yemen because of the risk of escalation in a region already simmering with tension as the Israel-Hamas war continues, but the ongoing Houthi attacks on international shipping compelled the coalition to act.
Yet, because the strikes only ensure shipping in the Red Sea remains obstructed and because the strikes themselves have little hope of impacting Ansar Allah strategically, the only other explanation as to why the US launched them was to specifically raise “the risk of escalation in the region.”
Ansar Allah’s ally, Iran, has been the target of US-sponsored regime change operations for decades. Entire policy papers have been written by US government and corporate-funded think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and its 2009 paper, “Which Path to Persia?,” detailing options to achieve regime change including through deliberate attempts to draw Iran into a war by both covert action within Iran, and through attacks on Iran’s network of regional allies.
The Brookings paper admits:
“…it would be far more preferable if the United States could cite an Iranian provocation as justification for the airstrikes before launching them. Clearly, the more outrageous, the more deadly, and the more unprovoked the Iranian action, the better off the United States would be. Of course, it would be very difficult for the United States to goad Iran into such a provocation without the rest of the world recognizing this game, which would then undermine it. (One method that would have some possibility of success would be to ratchet up covert regime change efforts in the hope that Tehran would retaliate overtly, or even semi-overtly, which could then be portrayed as an unprovoked act of Iranian aggression.)”
Preceding the US-British missile and air strikes on Yemen, the US has carried out strikes on Iranian allies across the region, including in Syria and Iraq. Israel, with US-backing, has also carried out attacks across the region on Iranian allies, specifically on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
There was also recently a terrorist bombing inside of Iran, likely carried out by one of several terrorist organizations sponsored by the US to carry out just such attacks, as per the Brookings paper’s own suggestion regarding “ratcheting up cover regime change efforts inside Iran.” It should be noted that elsewhere in the Brookings paper the option of using known terrorist groups to carry out US-backed “insurgency” is afforded an entire chapter (Chapter 7, Inspiring an Insurgency – Supporting Iranian Minority and Opposition Groups).
Together, this constitutes a strategy of attempting to degrade Iranian allies in the region ahead of a wider conflict, and as a means of provoking and thus drawing Iran itself into that wider conflict.
So far, Iran has exhibited tremendous patience. Iran, as both Russia and China who face similar US policies of encirclement and containment, knows time works in its favor. Iranian patience has already served Tehran well. It has afforded it the ability to diplomatically resolve tensions between itself and Saudi Arabia through Chinese mediation. It has also allowed Iran to continue building up not only its own military capabilities, but those across its network of allies in the region, leading to a gradual shift in the balance of power in Tehran’s favor.
Washington realizes this. This time next year, if events continue to unfold as they have in recent years, Iran will only be stronger and the US more isolated in the region. The US faced a similar problem of waning primacy in Europe, using its proxy war in Ukraine against Russia as a means of reasserting itself over Europe. Washington likely imagines it can use a similar strategy to reassert itself over the Middle East while using a regional conflict to collectively weaken and thus subordinate the nations therein.
Only time will tell if the US is as “successful” in the Middle East as it was in Europe. Already many factors are working against the US, but from Washington’s perspective, it isn’t paying the price for any of these conflicts – the regions these conflicts are fought in are paying that price. As long as Washington is absolved from any direct cost in such a foreign policy, it will continue pursuing it until it is finally and fully denied the means to continue doing so.
Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.