Since mid-November, the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group backed by Iran, have launched dozens of attacks on ships sailing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a crucial shipping route through which 12 percent of global trade passes.
The United States and a handful of allies, including Britain, counterattacked, launching missile strikes against Houthi targets inside Yemen on Friday morning local time, and putting the rebels and their long armed struggle even further into the center of attention.
The attack on Houthi bases came a day after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn “in the strongest terms” at least two dozen attacks carried out by the Houthis against merchant and commercial ships, which , he said, had impeded global trade and undermined freedom of navigation. .
Here’s an introduction to the Houthis, their relationship with Hamas, and the attacks in the Red Sea.
Who are the Houthis?
The Houthis, led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, are a group of Iranian-backed Shiite rebels who have been fighting Yemen’s government for about two decades and now control the country’s northwest and its capital, Sanaa.
They have built their ideology around opposition to Israel and the United States, seeing themselves as part of the “axis of resistance” led by Iran, along with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their leaders often draw parallels between the American-made bombs used to attack their forces in Yemen and the weapons sent to israel and used in Gaza.
In 2014, a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to try to restore the country’s original government after the Houthis seized the capital, starting a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Last April, talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia raised hopes of a peace deal that would potentially recognize the Houthis’ right to rule northern Yemen.
The Houthis, once a loosely organized group of rebels, have beefed up their arsenal in recent years, now including ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range drones. Analysts attribute this expansion to support from Iran, which has provided militias across the Middle East to expand its own influence.
Why do they attack ships in the Red Sea?
When the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, the Houthis declared their support for Hamas and said they would attack any ship traveling to or leaving Israel.
Yahya Sarea, a Houthi spokesman, has frequently said the group is attacking ships to protest the “killing, destruction and siege” in Gaza and to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Gaza authorities say more than 23,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli bombing campaign and ground offensive that began after Hamas carried out cross-border raids and massacred, according to Israeli authorities, about 1,200 people.
Since November, the Houthis have launched 27 drone and missile attacks against vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they say are heading toward or out of Israeli ports. The latest was at 2 a.m. Thursday, when a missile landed near a commercial ship, the U.S. military said.
Perhaps the most audacious Houthi operation came on November 19, when gunmen hijacked a ship called the Galaxy Leader and took it to a Yemeni port, holding its 25, mostly Filipino crew members captive.
How are the attacks affecting countries around the world?
Speaking to reporters in Bahrain on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned that continued Houthi attacks in the Red Sea could disrupt supply chains and, in turn, raise the costs of everyday goods. . Houthi attacks have hit ships linked to more than 40 countries, he said.
The world’s largest container companies, MSC and Maersk, have said they are avoiding the region, and shipping companies face difficult choices.
Rerouting ships around Africa adds an additional 4,000 miles and 10 days to shipping routes and requires more fuel. But continuing to use the Red Sea would increase insurance premiums. Either option would damage an already fragile global economy.
What has the United States been doing to stop Houthi attacks?
The Biden administration has repeatedly condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and assembled a naval task force to try to keep them under control.
The task force, called Operation Prosperity Guardian, brought together the United States, Britain and other allies and has been patrolling the Red Sea to, in Blinken’s words, “preserve freedom of navigation” and “freedom of navigation.” .
Bahrain is the only Middle Eastern country that agreed to participate. Although many countries in the region depend on trade passing through the Red Sea, many do not want to partner with the United States, Israel’s closest ally, analysts say.
American and British warships have intercepted some Houthi missiles and drones before they reached their targets. On Wednesday, U.S. warplanes from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with four other warships, intercepted 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile, Central Command said in a statement.
On December 31, US Navy helicopters sank three Houthi ships attacking a commercial cargo ship.
Ben Hubbard, Peter Eavis, Helen Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Keith Bradsher contributed reports.