Who are the Houthi rebels who have become a ‘threat’ to global trade and why are they targeting ships in the Red Sea? Yemen

Who are the Houthi rebels who have become a 'threat' to global trade and why are they targeting ships in the Red Sea? Yemen

The Houthi rebels, who control much of Yemen, have warned they will attack any ships sailing to and from Israel from the Red Sea.

Last November, Houthi rebels captured a cargo ship crossing the Red Sea. The cargo ship was owned by Israel. Over the past two months, Houthi rebels have attacked several commercial ships crossing the Red Sea with rockets and drones.

Following the attacks, several of the world’s major shipping companies suspended operations in the Red Sea or diverted their ships to alternative, longer routes. Due to this situation, experts have expressed fear of an increase in the prices of oil and essential raw materials in the world.

How did the Houthis target Israeli targets?

Houthi rebels hijacked a ship in the Red Sea on November 21 and released a video of it.

Following the start of Israel’s attack on Gaza on October 19, the Houthis fired several missiles towards Israel.

According to the United States, several of these missiles were shot down in the Red Sea, while the rest fell into the sea or within Egypt’s borders.

In November 2023, Houthi rebels announced that they had captured an Israeli merchant ship in the Red Sea and were taking it off the coast of Yemen.

Israel has said that the ship is not owned by Israel and that there is no Israeli crew on board. But according to unconfirmed reports, the owner of the plane could have Israeli citizenship.

Since December 3, the Houthis have attacked several commercial vessels in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen with ballistic missiles and drones.

American, British, and French warships shot down several of these missiles in the air, but managed to hit and damage several ships.

The world’s largest shipping company, Mediterranean Shipping Company, has said it will not send its ships to the Red Sea. The French company CM Ah CGM, the Danish shipping company Maersk, the German Hepp Lloyd and the oil company British Petroleum have also made similar announcements.

The US military’s CENTCOM, which directs US military operations in the Middle East, has said that “these attacks were carried out by the Houthis in Yemen, who were fully authorized by Iran.”

The United States has recommended a naval task force to protect commercial ships from Houthi attacks.

Who are the Houthi rebels and what do they want?

The Houthis are a rebel group belonging to Yemen’s minority Zaydi Shiite sect.

The group was formed in the 1990s with the aim of combating the corruption of then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

It took its name from the founder of this movement, Hussain Al-Houthi. The Houthis also call themselves “Ansar Allah.”

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Houthis began chanting “Allahu Akbar, death to Israel, death to Israel, curse to the Jews, victory to Islam.”

They declared that they were part of the seven Iranian-sponsored Hamas and Hezbollah “resistance forces” against Israel, the United States and the West.

Hisham al-Omaysi, a Yemen expert at the European Peace Institute, says this explains why the Houthis’ history makes clear why they are now attacking ships bound for Israel in the Red Sea.

He says that “now they are actually fighting the imperialist powers, they are fighting the enemies of the Nation of Islam, and his supporters understand this message.”

How did the Houthis capture a large part of Yemen?

In early 2014, the Houthis gained a lot of political support when they opposed Yemen’s new president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Ali Abdullah Saleh.

He had made a pact with his former rival Ali Abdullah Saleh and now wanted to restore him to power.

In early 2015, Houthi rebels captured the northern Yemeni province of Saada and then the Yemeni capital Sanaa, after which President Hadi was forced to leave the country.

Yemen’s neighbor Saudi Arabia, supported by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, attempted to restore President Hadi to power by repelling the Houthis through military intervention.

The Houthis resisted their offensive and still control large areas of Yemen.

In 2017, when former president Ali Abdullah Saleh changed his alliance and wanted to reunite with Saudi Arabia, the Houthis killed him.

Who supports the Houthi rebels?
The Houthi rebels are influenced by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

In 2014, according to the Counterterrorism Center, an American research organization, since 2014, Hezbollah has been providing military expertise and training to these Houthi rebels.

The Houthis consider Iran their ally due to their shared enmity with Saudi Arabia.

Iran is suspected of supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels.

The United States and Saudi Arabia say ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, were supplied by Iran and were shot down before reaching their targets.

Saudi Arabia also alleged that cruise missiles and drones used by the Houthis in 2019 to attack Saudi oil facilities were also supplied by Iran.

The Houthis have also attacked Saudi Arabia’s United Arab Emirates in the past with the help of long-range missiles.

How powerful are Yemen’s Houthis and how much territory do they control?
The official government of Yemen is the Presidential Guidance Council, and former President Hadi handed power to the council in April 2022. This council is located in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

However, the majority of Yemen’s population lives in areas controlled by the Houthis, who also collect taxes from people in the northern part of the country and print their own banknotes.

The UN Security Council quotes Ahmed al-Bahri, an expert on the Houthi movement, who says that in 2010 the Houthis had between 100,000 and 120,000 agents, including armed forces and unarmed supporters.

The United Nations also says 1,500 children recruited by Yemen’s Houthi rebels died in the 2020 fighting, and hundreds more died the following year.

Much of Yemen’s coast along the Red Sea is under Houthi control and they attack ships from here.

Hisham al-Omaysi says these attacks have helped the Houthis’ ongoing peace talks with Saudi Arabia.

“Showing the Saudis that they (the Houthis) can really close the Red Sea strait, Bab al-Mandab,” he says. They are putting more pressure on the Saudis demanding concessions.

Who are the Houthi rebels who have become a 'threat' to global trade and why are they targeting ships in the Red Sea? Yemen

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