Why are Red Sea Ships being Attacked by the Houthi rebels, and who are they?

US and UK-led troops have now launched airstrikes against sites in the region in response to drone and rocket attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea.

The Houthis, a rebel group supported by Iran that has sway over a sizable portion of Yemen, assaulted warships, prompting retaliation from Western forces.

US President Joe Biden announced that the US and UK armed forces, together with assistance from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, had effectively conducted strikes against Houthi targets early on Friday.

More than a dozen locations were targeted, including the Houthi Red Sea port stronghold of Hudaydah and the capital city of Sanaa. Arms stockpiles, air defence systems, and logistics hubs were among the Houthi targets in Yemen.

Why are the Houthis attacking ships in the Red Sea?

Following the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, the attacks started.

The Houthis vowed to attack any ship that was headed towards Israel and to help Hamas. It’s unclear if every ship that was attacked had that destination in mind.

They claimed to have hijacked an Israeli cargo ship in November.

Since then, they have used ballistic missiles and drones to strike multiple commercial ships.

Between November and December, there was a 500% spike in Houthi strikes in the Red Sea. Major shipping firms have stopped operating in the area because to the threat, and since early December, insurance prices have increased tenfold.

Prominent maritime companies Mediterranean maritime Company, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, and BP have all declared that they are pulling their ships out of the Red Sea.

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There is concern that supply networks may be harmed and fuel prices may increase. The Red Sea, the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, is connected to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal, and accounts for over 15% of all seaborne traffic worldwide.

Iran has come under fire from Washington for allegedly being “deeply involved” in attempts to target commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Who are the Houthi rebels?

The Houthis are an armed faction of the Zaidis, a subset of Yemen’s Shia Muslim minority. Hussein al Houthi, the movement’s founder, is the source of its name.

Originally called the Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), the organisation was founded in the 1990s to oppose what they perceived to be Ali Abdullah Saleh’s corruption as president.

In 2003, President Saleh attempted to crush the Houthi rebels with the military support of Saudi Arabia; however, the Houthis repulsed both of them.

Since 2014, the Houthi rebels have been engaged in a civil conflict with the Yemeni government. An alliance of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has supported the government in its fight against the Houthis.

According to the UN, the conflict has resulted in an estimated 377,000 deaths and four million displaced people by the beginning of 2022.

Along with Hamas and Hezbollah, the Houthis declare themselves to be a member of the Iranian-led “axis of resistance” against Israel, the US, and the larger West.

Who supports the rebels in Houthi?
The Houthi rebels take their cues from Hezbollah, the Shia armed group in Lebanon.

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The Combating Terrorism Centre, a US research institution, claims that since 2014, Hezbollah has been giving them considerable military training and experience.

Since Saudi Arabia is their shared opponent, the Houthis also view Iran as an ally.

The US claims that Iranian intelligence is essential to the Houthi rebels’ ability to target ships, and Iran is suspected of providing them with weapons.

“We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” White House national security secretary Adrienne Watson said.

“This is consistent with Iran’s long-term material support and encouragement of the Houthis’ destabilising actions in the region.”

Iran disputes any role it may have had in the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

The ballistic missiles that the Houthis fired in 2017 towards the Saudi capital of Riyadh but were shot down were allegedly provided by Iran, according to the US and Saudi Arabia.

Iran “supplied rebels in Yemen with missiles.”
Additionally, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of providing the drones and cruise missiles that the Houthis used to attack Saudi oil sites in 2019.

Tens of thousands of short-range missiles have been fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis, who have also struck targets in the United Arab Emirates. Since the beginning of the Gaza War, they have also launched ballistic missiles and drones against Israel.

If these weapons were supplied, a UN arms embargo would be broken. Iran disputes having done so.

How much of Yemen do the Houthis control?

President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi delegated his authority to the Presidential Leadership Council in April 2022, making it the recognised government of Yemen.

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Nonetheless, Hadi escaped to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, in 2015, and the government now operates there.

The majority of Yemenis reside in regions that the Houthis control. As well as Sanaa and the north of Yemen, the Houthi rebels hold the Red Sea coastline.

The organisation both prints money and collects taxes.

According to the UN Security Council, the Houthis had between 100,000 and 120,000 members by 2010—both armed combatants and civilian sympathisers.

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