The United States and Britain launched strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen in response to the group’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea. This came as a dramatic regional widening of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. President Joe Biden warned that further action could be taken if needed. The Iran-aligned group was formed by the Houthi family in the late 1990s as a religious revival movement for the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam. They have been involved in wars and conflicts with the government and Saudi Arabia.
The war in Yemen began in late 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa. Saudi Arabia led a Western-backed coalition in support of the Saudi-backed government due to concerns about Iran’s growing influence. The conflict has resulted in the Houthis gaining control of much of the north and other population centers, with the internationally recognized government based in Aden. Yemen has recently experienced relative calm amid a U.N.-led peace initiative, and Saudi Arabia has been in talks with the Houthis to end the war. However, the Houthi attacks on Israel have increased the risk of conflict for Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis claim their attacks on Red Sea shipping routes are in support of the Palestinians and Hamas in their war against Israel. These attacks have disrupted international commerce and increased delivery costs, causing fears of global inflation. The US, along with Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, supported the operation against the Houthis and sought to frame the airstrikes as part of an international effort to restore the free flow of trade in a key shipping route between Europe and Asia.
The Houthis are part of an “Axis of Resistance,” an anti-Israel and anti-Western alliance of regional militias backed by Iran. They have ties to Iran, although the depth of this relationship is unclear. While Iran supports the Houthis as part of its regional “axis of resistance,” Yemen experts believe the group’s main motivation is a domestic agenda, despite their political affinity for Iran and Hezbollah. The Houthis have denied being puppets of Iran and claim to be fighting a corrupt system.