Since mid-November, the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group supported by Iran, have done just that He launched dozens of attacks On ships sailing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a vital shipping route through which 12% of global trade passes.
The United States and a handful of its allies, including Britain, responded by carrying out missile strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen early Friday local time, thrusting the rebels and their long-running armed struggle into the spotlight.
The attack on Houthi bases came a day after the UN Security Council voted to condemn “in the strongest terms” at least two dozen attacks carried out by the Houthis on commercial and business ships, which it said hindered global trade and undermined navigational freedom. .
Here's an introduction to the Houthis, their relationship with Hamas, and the attacks in the Red Sea.
Who are the Houthis?
The Houthis, led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, are a group of Iranian-backed Shiite rebels who have been fighting the Yemeni government for about two decades and now control the northwest of the country with its capital, Sanaa.
They have built their ideology around opposition to Israel and the United States, viewing themselves as part of the Iranian-led “axis of resistance,” along with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their leaders often compare the American-made bombs used to strike their forces in Yemen to weapons Sent to Israel And its use in Gaza.
In 2014, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened to try to restore the country's original government after the Houthis seized the capital, starting a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands.
Last April, talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia raised hopes of a peace agreement that would recognize the Houthis' right to rule northern Yemen.
Once a poorly organized group of rebels, the Houthis have strengthened their arsenal in recent years, and it now includes cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and long-range drones. Analysts attribute this expansion to support from Iran, which has supplied militias across the Middle East to expand its influence.
Why do they attack ships in the Red Sea?
When the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, the Houthis declared their support for Hamas and said they would target any ship traveling to or leaving Israel.
Yahya Saree, a Houthi spokesman, has repeatedly said that the group is attacking ships in protest against “killing, destruction and siege” in Gaza and in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Authorities in Gaza say more than 23,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Israel's bombing campaign and ground offensive that began after Hamas carried out cross-border raids and killed, Israeli authorities say, about 1,200 people.
Since November, the Houthis have launched 27 drone and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, which they claimed were heading toward or leaving Israeli ports. The US military said the latest was on Thursday at 2 a.m. when a missile landed near a commercial ship.
Perhaps the most audacious Houthi operation came on November 19, when militants hijacked a ship called the Galaxy Leader, took it to a Yemeni port, and detained its crew of 25, most of them Filipinos.
How do attacks affect countries around the world?
Speaking to reporters in Bahrain on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that continued Houthi attacks in the Red Sea could disrupt supply chains and thus increase the costs of everyday goods. He pointed out that the Houthi attacks affected ships linked to more than 40 countries.
The world's largest container companies, MSC and Maersk, have said they are avoiding the region, leaving shippers with difficult choices.
Rerouting ships around Africa adds an additional 4,000 miles and 10 days to shipping routes, and requires more fuel. But continuing to use the Red Sea would raise insurance premiums. Either option would damage the already fragile global economy.
What did the United States do to stop the Houthi attacks?
The Biden administration has repeatedly condemned Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and has formed a naval task force to try to keep them under control.
The task force, called Operation Prosperity Sentinel, brought together the United States, Britain and other allies, and was patrolling the Red Sea to, in Mr. Blinken’s words, “preserve freedom of navigation” and “freedom of shipping.”
Bahrain is the only Middle Eastern country that has agreed to participate. Analysts say that although many countries in the region depend on trade that passes through the Red Sea, many of them do not want to be associated with the United States, Israel's closest ally.
American and British warships intercepted some Houthi missiles and drones before they reached their targets. US fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with four other warships, on Wednesday intercepted 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and an anti-ship ballistic missile, Central Command said in a statement.
On December 31, US Navy helicopters sank three Houthi boats that were attacking a commercial cargo ship.
Ben Hubbard, Peter Ives, Helen Cooper, Eric Schmidt And Keith Bradsher Contributed to reports.
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