One of the missiles displayed by the Houthis in Sanaa, March 2021 (Houthi media)

The Significance of the Latest Houthi Threats Against Israel


Sat, 14-10-2023 11:40 AM, Aden Time

Now it seems that it is indeed the proper time for the Houthis to use their anti-America and anti-Israel slogans, despite having refrained from criticizing them, whether for the sake of regional arrangements (with the Axis of Resistance) or in fear of a harsh Israeli backlash. 

(South24 Center)

On the morning of October 7, 2023, when Israel was celebrating a holy Jewish Saturday, the Palestinian movement ’Hamas‘ launched a sweeping and sudden attack on southern Israel, which it dubbed as ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’, involving land, sea, and aerial operations. Al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ military wing) launched thousands of missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel and infiltrated into neighboring towns to take tens of Israeli soldiers as captives. The timing wasn’t the only surprise factor in the attack, but also the military and intelligence capabilities of Al-Qassam Brigades which are being promoted on social media platforms affiliated with Hamas. The assault exposed the shocking collapse of the security and intelligence system of Israel, which has not experienced such a failure or military escalation against it since the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The breakdown of the Israeli security apparatus was witnessed in the early hours of the Hamas attack that saw one of the strongest armies in the region besieged by an armed movement operating in a limited geographical area as well as other allied factions that joined it later.

The tough military stance adopted by Hamas is apparently related to the accelerating political developments in the region, especially since some Arab states, including the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, have practically normalized their ties with Israel with the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020. Other countries are in the process of normalization maneuvers such as Saudi Arabia, as a second move following the rapprochement with Iran. However, this has been met with dissatisfaction by the Palestinians, especially the leaders of Gaza who are affiliated with the so-called ’Axis of Resistance’, which includes Iran and its allies in the region. These moves may isolate and exclude them from any future peace agreements in the region. This could also ultimately lead to their destruction as a result of possible Israeli long-term pressure. Such a likely development could emerge despite Hamas leaders attributing their sudden attack on Israel to the “ongoing criminal Zionist aggression against the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, which reached its peak over the past days” (on October 4-5*).

While some countries expressed the need for immediate steps to mitigate the tension and protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza from the violent Israeli response and genocide, other countries demonstrated their absolute solidarity with Israel including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy. From day one, Washington and its Western allies have sought to give Israel the green light to take revenge on Hamas and respond to the Saturday attack. On the other hand, they warned other parties in the region from exploiting the situation. In order to deter any regional expansion of the conflict, the United States sent its newest and most advanced aircraft carrier ’USS Gerald R. Ford‘ and its accompanying warships to the eastern Mediterranean. The US also enhanced its fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. “This underscores the United States' ironclad support for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli people,” according to a statement by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

The Lebanese Hezbollah, affiliated with the ‘Axis of Resistance’, described the Hamas attack as “an extensive heroic operation”. It appears that along with launching some missiles and bombs from the Lebanese borders, the group also provides guidance and intelligence support inside and outside Gaza. It hasn’t adopted a neutral stance to the developments, according to a Hezbollah leader. This position isn’t different from that adopted by its regional ally ’Tehran‘. The Wall Street Journal in a report said that Iran stands behind the ’Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ and that it gave the green light to carry out the Hamas attack during a meeting in Beirut on October 2. The American newspaper added that preparations for the attack were made over months with the coordination of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. However, the Iranian Permanent Mission to the United Nations denied allegations of Iran’s involvement in the Hamas attack and said that “Iran is not involved in Palestine's response, as these actions are solely determined by the Palestinians themselves. Palestinians have the freedom to make choices that they believe serve their best interests and to exercise their own judgment in determining their course of action.” Moreover, the White House has repeatedly stressed over the past days that while it has not seen “hard, tangible evidence” regarding Iran’s involvement, Tehran “is complicit in a broad sense” for funding the military wing of Hamas.

Death to America, Death to Israel

While the ’Axis of Resistance’ uses a restrained tone to express its stance on what is happening at the Palestinian-Israeli scene, the Houthis use a more strident one. The Houthis are a radical Yemeni religious movement that militarily controls North Yemen. Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, Leader of the Iranian-backed militia, on October 10 threatened to launch missiles and drones against Israel. He expressed his regret over the geographical obstacles that prevent Yemeni militants from supporting the Palestinian Hamas movement against Israel. He warned: "If the Americans intervene directly in Palestine, we are ready to participate with missile and drone strikes.” The Houthis didn’t bother to conceal their feeling of hostility against Israel and the United States. They held marches while chanting their famous slogan “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse Upon the Jews”. They have used this slogan for decades since the foundation of the group by its former leader Hussein Al-Houthi, who is the older brother of the current Houthi leader. A report, published by American organization ‘Rand’, said that Hussein Al-Houthi coined the slogan as a kind of call for battle through which he hoped to exploit the anti-American sentiment. In addition, this would give his supporters a tool to know each other even in his absence. 

Now it seems that it is indeed the proper time for the Houthis to use their anti-America and anti-Israel slogans, despite having refrained from criticizing them, whether for the sake of regional arrangements (with the Axis of Resistance) or in fear of a harsh Israeli backlash. Keeping in mind their win and loss calculations, the Houthis may delay joining in the attacks on Israel as it may hinder their military expansion inside Yemen and their war against the Saudi-led Arab Coalition. Moreover, the opening of such a front thousands of kilometers away, would surely herald their downfall. This would also finish off the group faster than they anticipate. The Houthis are using the geographical barriers as an excuse to prevent their militia from supporting the Hamas against Israel. Houthi senior leaders have asked for “opening the road for Yemeni jihadists to save Palestine along with their counterparts in Gaza”, according to a post on ’X‘ by Houthi prominent leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi. This response comes even though the Houthis can very well join the front with the Palestinians through some other way if they want, for example by using the sea through which they have received military support from Iran for more than nine years. 

However, it isn’t unlikely that the Houthis will attack ships affiliated with Israel, especially those coming from the east towards the Port of Eilat (located at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba) via the Bab Al-Mandab Strait. They may directly carry out the attacks or use other allied extremist groups in Yemen for it. The Israeli leaders apparently don’t trivialize the seriousness of the Houthi military activities, whether at the level of ballistic missiles or drones or the attacks that threaten the navigation security in the region. The Houthi militias have actually carried out attacks against several ships, and will do it again if necessary. Israel may not distinguish between the Houthi’s hostile approach against it and the united stance adopted by the ’Axis of Resistance‘ sponsored by Iran. Israel may feel worried and prepare itself for any eventuality, whether within its domain or outside it. One day after the Houthi leader’s speech, the Yemeni Joint Forces, including the Southern Giants Brigades, announced on Wednesday (October 11) that they had thwarted Houthi moves against international navigation, south of Hodeidah on the Red Sea.

The Houthis and the extremist groups

It is important to state that the Houthi’s persistent support for extremist religious groups in Yemen could help in achieving a part of their strategic goals. Their involvement in supporting AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), which is the strongest Qaeda branch in the region, has been proven. They provided AQAP with drones to carry out their operations against the local forces in some areas in South Yemen. Senior Yemeni officials confirmed that the Houthis coordinated with AQAP in the terrorist attacks in some governorates controlled by the internationally-recognized government. They shelter and train AQAP members as well as use them to destabilize security in the Southern areas, including Aden, Abyan and Shabwa. On Tuesday (October 10), concurrently with the Houthi Leader’s threat to the United States, AQAP announced targeting of the strategic military camp ’Marra‘, affiliated with the Southern forces in Shabwa. It claimed that the targeting coincided with the arrival of US military forces to the camp. A military source confirmed to ’South24 Center‘ that the explosive projectiles had fallen kilometers away from the Marra camp.

Iran’s support to AQAP via its local allies is no longer a secret, especially after the Qaeda command center moved from Afghanistan to Iran, under the leadership of Saif Al-Adel following the assassination of its leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. The organization’s strategy and speeches have changed as of mid-2022. Its political speeches have become basically directed against the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council, like that by the Houthis. The AQAP is carrying out attacks against the Southern forces affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC), but not targeting the Yemeni army forces which are under the control of the Islah Party (the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen) in Marib.

The possible presence of Qaeda leader Saif Al-Adel in Iran impacts the operational path of the organization, especially in view of the control exerted by Tehran’s local allies over large geographical areas in North Yemen. This has been made clear through the new advanced plans and fighting tactics used against the local forces in South Yemen, especially by the AQAP’s use of drones in some of its recent attacks. This shows that Iran extensively supports the terrorist organization, given the fact that Tehran is the top manufacturer of drones globally. Tehran even provided Moscow with drones to target infrastructure, fuel stations and dams in the Russian war against Ukraine. Significantly, Hamas used the ‘Al-Zouari’ kamikaze drones in its attack on Israel. Al-Qassam Brigades published footage of Al-Zouari suicide drones attacking Israeli positions.

Indeed, despite the different roles played by extremist religious groups in Yemen (the Houthis, AQAP and Muslim Brotherhood) and their separate doctrinal contexts as groups, their political and military support for each other will remain unwavering as long as the goal is to secure their presence and continue their expansionist strategic goals. They are even ready to unite for some time, before they launch attacks on each other after neutralizing their rivals.

The incitement, motivation and support to ‘terrorist groups’ provided by Iran’s local allies will threaten the stability of the region. These groups will try to exploit the snowballing events with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict to rearrange their ranks and carry out hostile acts at a larger scale in the name of the Palestinian people and their fair issue. This is in light of the revelation of the fragile state of the Israeli security and intelligence apparatus which it used to brag about and glorify for decades. 

More importantly, any international arrangement arrived at to resolve the current scenario in the Middle East in light of the developments of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ultimately include Yemen. This would avoid more destructive security perils internally and regionally as well as against international navigation in general, in light of the clear Houthi ties with the extremist groups. Without the inclusion of Yemen in the arrangements, any stability will be far-fetched.

*On October 4 and 5, hundreds of illegal Israeli settlers forced their way into the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Occupied East Jerusalem as part of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, according to the Islamic Waqf Department, Anadolu Agency reported.

South24 Center 

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

South YemenNorth YemenPalestineIsraelConflictHamasAl-Aqsa FloodIranHezbollahAQAPHouthis