The Houthis: Who are they, and why are they messing with Israel? 

by Stephen M. Flatow
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They’ve managed to attack Saudi Arabian targets with cruise missiles, drones and mortars, causing damage to oil refineries and killing Saudi soldiers.

(JNS) I opened a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, and there’s a fellow in uniform with red beret and camo uniform screaming into a microphone. My Arabic being non-existent, I was glad for the simultaneous translation identifying the screamer as one Gen. Yahya Saree, the spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, announcing an attack on Israel with a “salvo of ballistic missiles on various sensitive targets of the Israeli entity.” One of those targets being Eilat. The missile was destroyed while in the air.

Hyperbole in the Middle East is nothing new. Remember “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam Hussein’s “spokesman” known for such pronouncements as “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” A single missile does not a salvo make, and neither does the seizure of a Bahamian-flagged vessel registered under a British company, which is partially owned by an Israeli and leased out to a Japanese company at the time of the seizure. Yet, Saree couldn’t resist announcing that the Houthis “carried out a military operation in the Red Sea, the results of which were the seizure of an Israeli ship and taking it to the Yemeni coast.”

This begs the question: Who are the Houthis, and what do they want from Israel?

The “Houthis” are a group of Shi’ite Muslims belonging to the Zaidi sect in Yemen officially known as Ansar Allah (“Supporters of God”). The name is taken from that of their dead leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who was killed by the Yemeni army in 2004. Naming their groups after dead leadership is a time-honored custom among terrorists.

Originating in Yemen’s northern governorate of Saada, they gained prominence about 20 years ago due to their opposition to the Yemeni government, and its ties to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

What has happened in Yemen in the past 20 years is complex. What at first started as a conflict with the government turned into an outright civil war in 2014 when the Houthis captured Yemen’s capital of Sana’a, driving the country’s elected government to the southern part of the country and eventual exile. They’ve also clashed with other groups in Yemen, including elements aligned with the internationally recognized government, leading to a protracted civil war.

The United States designated the Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization in January 2021 at the end of the Trump administration, citing their destabilizing actions, ties to Iran and attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Of course, being the Mideast, the designation of the Houthis as “terrorists” became a matter of contention.

The U.S. terrorist designation was criticized by humanitarian organizations, as it potentially impeded the delivery of aid and worsened the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where millions of people rely on such assistance. As a result, the Biden administration removed the Houthi designation as a terrorist organization in February 2021, although specific Houthi leaders remained under U.S. sanctions. Now, as a result of its long-range attacks against Israel, drone attacks against U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea and the seizure of the cargo ship last week, the Biden administration is rethinking its lifting of the terrorist designation.

Humanitarian crisis or not, the Houthis have managed to attack Saudi Arabian targets with cruise missiles, drones and mortars. They’ve caused serious damage to Saudi oil refineries and killed Saudi soldiers. Not for a second should we believe that Iran does not have a hand in those attacks.

And now, with Israel being targeted by the Houthis, what does she do? Does Israel merely fend off missile and drone attacks from Yemen or respond militarily? While Yemen is a great distance from Jerusalem, it’s within range of the Israel Air Force. Having publicly stated that they have sided with Hamas and have joined the “axis of resistance,” perhaps it’s time that Israel not just wait for the next “salvo” but destroy missiles and drones on the ground before they are launched.


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