What's Behind the Surge in Attacks by Yemen's Houthis

commentary

Jan 11, 2024

Newly recruited Houthi fighters participate in a ceremony at the end of their training in Sanaa, Yemen, January 11, 2024, photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Newly recruited Houthi fighters participate in a ceremony at the end of their training in Sanaa, Yemen, January 11, 2024

Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on Foreign Affairs on January 11, 2024.

The conflict between the United States and the Houthis in the Red Sea is steadily escalating. On December 31, Houthi small boats attempted to attack a commercial vessel; after U.S. naval helicopters responded to the attack, the Houthis—a rebel group that controls territory inhabited by 80 percent of Yemen’s population—fired on them. U.S. forces returned fire, sinking three Houthi boats and killing ten crew members. Then on January 9, the Houthis launched one of their largest attacks in the Red Sea to date including 18 drones, two antiship cruise missiles, and one antiship ballistic missile, which were intercepted by U.S. and British forces.

This engagement represented just the latest in a series of attacks in the Red Sea. Since mid-November, the Houthis have launched more than 20 attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, a strategically critical strait that is transited by 15 percent of global trade. Characterizing their attacks as a response to the Israel-Hamas war, they have also fired missiles and drones toward southern Israel. The Red Sea attacks have forced some shipping companies to temporarily suspend sailing through the Suez Canal, routing instead around the Horn of Africa, a change that adds about ten days to their journey. The attacks have not yet led to a significant disruption in global trade, but over the long term, the rising shipping costs they provoke are likely to increase oil prices and the cost of consumer goods worldwide. …

The remainder of this commentary is available at foreignaffairs.com.


Alexandra Stark is an associate policy researcher at RAND and the author of the forthcoming book The Yemen Model.