Backed by Iran, Houthi attacks on Israel raise concerns for Red Sea shipping, prompting the formation of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational coalition to address the threat.

By Chaim Lax, Honest Reporting

Less than two weeks after Hamas’ brutal October 7 terror invasion, as Israel was conducting intense strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza and preparing for its ground invasion, the Houthi movement in Yemen surprised the world by embarking on a terror campaign against Israel.

The barrage of five cruise missiles and roughly 30 UAVs were launched at both Israel and the Red Sea region. Almost all of these aerial threats were intercepted by a US naval ship operating in the Red Sea. Attacks on ships in the Red Sea followed soon after.

To understand why a Yemen-based group is intent on attacking a country almost two thousand miles away, it is important to understand who the Houthis are, the role that antisemitism plays in the movement’s worldview, and how it is connected to both Iran and its regional proxies.

Who Are the Houthis?

The group known as the Houthis (officially named Ansar Allah – Partisans of God) first emerged in the 1990s / 2000s in northern Yemen as part of a religious revival by Zaidi-Shi’ite Muslims.

By the early 2000s, the group had grown into a militant movement led by Hussein al-Houthi and, in 2004, it first sought to overthrow the government of Yemen. Al-Houthi was killed in this first uprising, and the group is now led by his brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.

By 2009, there had been six rounds of fighting between the Houthis and the armed forces of Yemen, resulting in Houthi control over part of northern Yemen.

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In late 2014 / early 2015, following the Yemen Revolution and the weakening of governmental power, the Houthis gained control over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and sought to depose the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, prompting the Yemeni Civil War.

As part of the Civil War, a wide range of Middle Eastern and North African countries have contributed forces to a Saudi-led coalition which seeks to back up the Yemeni government. This has led to Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since April 2022, a shaky truce has existed between both sides, with the Houthis controlling approximately 25% of Yemeni territory, which includes roughly half the total population of Yemen.

The Houthis’ Antisemitism

Hatred for Israel and the Jewish people exists at the core of the Houthi movement’s worldview.

Part of the official slogan of the Houthi movement is “Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn the Jews.”

The Houthi movement’s antisemitism stems back to the early 2000s, to the group’s founder, Hussein al-Houthi.

Al-Houthi’s sermons were rife with hatred for both Israel and the Jewish people, with him calling for the “elimination and destruction” of the Jewish state and warning that Muslim and Arab nations “will not be delivered from the evil of the Jews except by their eradication, and by the elimination of their entity.”

Al-Houthi also blamed Jews for the world’s woes and accused them of “manufacturing world opinion.”

The legacy of Hussein al-Houthi’s antisemitism continues to this day.

Ever since the attacks of October 7, Houthi outlets and leaders have unleashed a wave of antisemitism online, quoting the fabricated antisemitic tome The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, lauding Adolf Hitler, and spreading antisemitic caricatures

While the Houthis’ invective against Israel was largely bluster until October 2023, its antisemitism did have real consequences for the extremely small Jewish community that existed in territory controlled by the Houthis.

Jews living under Houthi control were regularly subjected to abuse for their commitment to Judaism and, by 2021, the last Jews were expelled by the Houthis from their territory.

The Houthis as Part of Iran’s “Axis of Resistance”

Similar to Hamas and Hezbollah, the Houthis are a recipient of patronage from the Islamic Republic of Iran, including advanced weapons and training.

However, although the Houthis are considered to be part of Iran’s “axis of resistance” against Israel and the West, which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, and Shiite Iraqi militias, the Yemen-based group acts independently of the Islamic Republic and is not beholden to every whim of their patrons in Tehran.

Nevertheless, despite the nuances of the relationship between Iran and the Houthis, it is clear that the latest attacks from Yemen toward Israel and its allies in the Red Sea region are in line with Iran’s post-October 7 policy of “unification of the fronts.” This policy aims to apply pressure on Israel from different fronts so that it cannot concentrate all its military power in the fight against Hamas in Gaza.

Several Western officials have surmised that it is extremely likely that the Houthis’ attacks have been sanctioned by the Islamic Republic, if not outright ordered by it.

The Houthi War Against Israel

In the days following the October 7 Hamas attacks, Houthi representatives made several public statements expressing support for Hamas, declaring that they were “in complete coordination with…the axis of resistance,” and threatening both Israel and the United States.

As noted above, it was almost two weeks later before the Houthis fired the first shot against Israel.

Since then (as of December 17, 2023), several other missiles and UAVs have been launched by the Houthis toward Israel, all of which have been intercepted by Israel, the United States, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

However daunting the idea of a Houthi attack against Israel is, the aerial threat posed by the Yemeni group to the Jewish state is less when compared to that of Hamas and Hezbollah due to the considerable distance between Yemen and Israel.

The much greater danger posed by the Houthis to Israel is the threat to both Israel-connected ships and ships bound for Israel in the Red Sea.

On November 14, 2023, the Houthis warned that any ships with a connection to Israel passing through the Red Sea would be attacked.

This threat came to fruition five days later, when Houthi fighters hijacked the Galaxy Leader, a ship owned by a company that is headed by an Israeli businessman.

In the following days, several other ships in the Red Sea were attacked, despite the fact that some of them had no connection to Israel at all.

On December 9, the Houthis raised the ante by threatening any ship headed for Israel, no matter the national origins of that vessel.

This threat is serious enough that several multinational corporations have suspended shipping through the Red Sea.

In response to the Houthi threats and attacks, the United States is forming a multinational coalition known as Operation Prosperity Guardian, which will “tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor.”

In an effort to harm Israel following October 7, the Houthi movement has also initiated an economic war against the Jewish state, reducing traffic by 80% at its southern port in Eilat and forcing Israeli shipping companies to move in a circuitous route, raising the prices of goods in Israel.

However, the brazenness of the Houthis’ hostilities toward Israel might be its undoing, as it has set itself against not only Israel but major regional and international powers with a vested interest in protecting the critical Red Sea shipping route.