The Houthi fighters staged a military showcase on the 21st of September, 2023, marking their nine-year stronghold over Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. While initially focused on regional confrontation, these fighters have now thrown their hat into the much larger global conflict involving Israel.
The Houthis rose to challenge on October 19, 2023, firing four earth-to-orbit cruise missiles and 14 drone aircraft, all intercepted by the vigilant American Navy.
The ramifications of this altercation point to an expanding frontier in the struggle against Israel. Israel is likely to represent its own strength, while concurrently securing support from its steadfast ally, the United States. Casting a geographic lens, Yemen provides a strategic location along the edge of the Red Sea which lies between the Bab El Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal.
Yemen’s allegiance to Iran offers significant implications for global trade given its strategic location, not to mention the potential risks posed to the Israeli city of Eilat and the significant transit point of the Suez Canal. Iran has leveraged these circumstances, encouraging its Yemeni affiliate, the Shia ‘Ansar Allah’ faction of the Houthis, to join the anti-Israeli struggle.
Equipped with advanced weaponry, either of Iranian origin or built on their designs, the Houthis launched a barrage of four ground-launched missiles and 14 drone machines aimed towards Israel.
Simultaneously, the American missile destroyer, USS Carney, voyaged the Red Sea, having just navigated the Suez Canal. The vessel found itself amidst the challenging waters neighboring Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
The United States Navy has understandably heightened its presence in the Mediterranean and Arabian Sea regions in response. The destroyer, boasting the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, intercepted the majority of the threatening missiles and drones emanating from Yemen. As per Israeli intelligence sources, Saudi Arabia also intercepted one of the missiles.
Reaffirming their stance, the Houthis publicly announced their responsibility for their failed assault on Israel and vowed to persist in their threats. Yemen’s political officer Ahmed Hamed took to the Houthi-owned television network on the 25th of October, 2023, affirming that ‘the Palestinians won’t stand alone in their battle against Israel.’
Hamed regards the Houthi’s procurement for ‘Palestine’ as a religious adherence to the teachings of the Quran, which Yemen seeks to respect refusing to overlook this, despite any potential global objections. Salim Al-Ma’als, a member of the political office of the Ansar Allah group, went on to declare that ‘Yemen is prepared for a clash on multiple fronts.’
Israeli security moguls predict that the threats from the Yemen-based Houthis are far from over, with more attacks on the horizon, especially once the IDF instigates ground operations within the Gaza Strip. The IDF has been establishing strong lines of communication with the U.S. Central Command and Fifth Fleet, anticipating further contentious actions from Yemen.
The Houthis’ attack towards Israel did not shock the IDF. The event was seen as a result of Iran’s strategy to align its forces against Israel. Iran initiated what can be seen as a war of attrition against Israel across all borders starting from the 7th of October, aiming to destabilize Israel and disrupt its planned ground offense in the Gaza Strip targeted at dethroning Hamas and impairing its military infrastructure within the Strip.
Israel falls within the firing range of the Houthi’s cruise missiles and drones which have a striking distance of over 2,000 km. In an assertion to its capacities, the Houthis announced a target list for Israel a couple of years ago. Moreover, behind the scenes, Iran has been rallying its proxies in the Middle East, laying the groundwork for an extensive campaign against Israel.
Such a strategic perspective was initially crafted by Qassem Soleimani, the then-advisor of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ ‘Quds’ force, who was later assassinated in Iraq by the United States. After his demise, the plans were taken forward by his successor, General Ismail Kaani. Adding to the complexity, the Houthis in Yemen possess ballistic weapons which exceed the speed of cruise missiles, however, Israel is equipped to manage such scenarios.
These missiles and drones have been developed local to Yemen using the advanced technology pioneered by Iran.
The experience that the Houthis gained in launching missiles and drones has been significant, having fired hundreds at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since the outbreak of conflict in Yemen. The defensive efforts by the American military foiled the recent wave of missiles and drones targeted at Israel, but it does not rule out an Israeli retaliation in the face of future attacks.
Despite geographical challenges, Israel’s defensive reach can certainly encompass Yemen. Israel possesses comprehensive defensive solutions against missiles and drones launched from Yemen, including interception by their fighter planes, marine platforms, and ‘David’s Sling’ and ‘Iron Dome’ air defense systems.
While the Houthis allege that Israel has supported Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with drones to use against them in Yemen, what remains clear is that these moments in history continue to write a complex narrative in the world of international relations.