Red Sea Tensions: Yemen's Houthi Movement and the Ongoing Support for Palestine

Red Sea Tensions: Yemen's Houthi Movement and the Ongoing Support for Palestine

In Yemen, the Houthi movement captured the world's attention by seizing an Israeli ship in the Red Sea and firing rockets at Israel in response to Yemen's historic support for Palestine. On November 19, 2023, Ansar Allah forces, also known as the Houthis, seized a cargo ship in the Red Sea that was partially owned by a wealthy Israeli citizen. Using helicopters and speedboats, the Houthis captured the Galaxy Leader and brought it to a location on the Red Sea coast near Hodeida.

A few days earlier, a Houthi military leader affiliated with Ansar Allah warned on Twitter/X that the Houthi would target ships affiliated with Israel or traveling to the region. However, the Houthi said that ships not affiliated with Israel need not worry, and that they would only target ships owned by Israel or carrying goods to and from Israel.

Flexport Inc, an American shipping company, also announced on Thursday (December 21) that nearly 170 ships had been diverted from the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea and 35 ships had been temporarily stopped pending further instructions from the operating companies. According to the San Francisco-based company's statement, about 170 container ships have been diverted around the African continent, while 35 other ships have been docked in the Red Sea due to the conditions of the attacks.

Since the beginning of Israel's genocidal attacks on Gaza in October, the Houthis have been steadfast in their support of the Palestinian people, launching a series of rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles into Israel. The military impact of these attacks has been limited, however, as the projectiles can be intercepted by the U.S. Navy in the Red Sea or Israel's own defense systems. Nevertheless, they have succeeded in causing many ships to avoid the Red Sea route, resulting in a significant increase in costs.

On Friday (Dec. 22), Bloomberg reported that the cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Asia to northern Europe rose 16% last week and 41% in December, according to the Drewry World Container Index released the day before. Fuel transport costs have also risen, with some oil and tanker companies saying they will avoid the southern part of the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, the group announced last Tuesday (Dec. 19) that it would not cease its "military operations" in the Red Sea, even as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the formation of a multinational naval coalition to protect commercial shipping in the region.

In October, the Houthis launched rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into southern Israel for the first time, but they either failed to reach their intended targets some 2,000 kilometers away or were intercepted by Israel and its allies.

The Houthis are demanding that Israel allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. The group is also demanding that Israel end its brutal conflict in Gaza, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 19,000 Palestinians.

Who are the Houthis?

Yemen's Houthi rebels gained international recognition in 2014, sparking a civil war and humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country. Backed by Iran, they fought against a Saudi-led coalition that included Western and regional allies. Although the conflict reached a stalemate, Saudi Arabia eventually decided to enter into peace negotiations with the Houthi.

Known as Ansar Allah, the Houthi still control a significant portion of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa and some western and northern areas close to Saudi Arabia. They have a substantial military force, including drones and missiles, including anti-ship ballistic missiles that have been successfully deployed in the Red Sea.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic relations with Iran, a close ally of the Houthis, after seven years of estrangement. While negotiations over Yemen and the restoration of relations with Iran are ongoing, Saudi Arabia has not joined the U.S.-led military alliance, nor have other Arab countries.

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