Since mid-November, the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group supported by Iran, launched dozens of attacks on ships navigating 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, responded by launching missile strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen early Friday local time, pushing the rebels and their long-running armed struggle even further under the projectors.
The attack on Houthi bases came a day after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn “in the strongest possible terms” at least two dozen Houthi attacks on merchant ships and trade, which he says have hampered global trade and undermined freedom of navigation. .
Here’s a look at 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 Iran-backed Shiite rebels who have been fighting Yemen’s government for about two decades and now control the northwest of the country and its capital, Sanaa.
They have built their ideology around opposition to Israel and the United States, seeing themselves as part of the Iranian-led “axis of resistance,” alongside Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah. in Liban. Their leaders have often drawn parallels between the American-made bombs used to hit 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, sparking a civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead.
Last April, talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia raised hopes for a peace deal that would potentially recognize the Houthis’ right to rule northern Yemen.
Once a poorly organized rebel group, the Houthis have strengthened their arsenal in recent years, and this now includes cruise and ballistic missiles and long-range drones. Analysts attribute the expansion to support from Iran, which has supplied 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 target any ships traveling to or leaving Israel.
Yahya Sarea, a spokesperson for the Houthis, has often said the group attacks ships to protest the “killing, destruction and siege” in Gaza and to express solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Gaza authorities say more than 23,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Israeli bombing campaign and ground offensive that began after Hamas carried out cross-border raids and massacres, according to Israeli authorities, around 1,200 people.
Since November, the Houthis have launched 27 drone and missile attacks against ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they say were heading toward or leaving Israeli ports. The latest occurred at 2 a.m. Thursday, when a missile landed near a commercial ship, the U.S. military said.
Perhaps the Houthis’ most audacious operation took place on November 19, when gunmen hijacked a ship named Galaxy Leader and took it to a Yemeni port, holding captive its 25 crew members, mainly Filipinos.
How are 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 therefore increase shipping costs. everyday consumer 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 lines are left facing difficult options.
Rerouting ships around Africa adds another 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 harm an already fragile global economy.
What is the United States doing to stop Houthi attacks?
The Biden administration has repeatedly condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and established a naval task force to try to subdue them.
The task force, called Operation Prosperity Guardian, brought together the United States, Britain and other allies and patrolled the Red Sea to, in Mr. Blinken’s words, “preserve freedom of navigation” and “freedom of navigation”.
Bahrain is the only country in the Middle East to have agreed to participate. Although many countries in the region depend on trade passing through the Red Sea, many do not want to be associated with the United States, Israel’s closest ally, analysts say.
US and British warships intercepted some Houthi missiles and drones before they reached their targets. On Wednesday, US 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 boats that were attacking a commercial cargo ship.
Ben Hubbard, Peter Eavis, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt And Keith Bradsher reports contributed.