British Typhoon fighter plane (Sergeant Lee Goddard/MoD/AP/dpa)

How Experts Assess US-UK Strikes Against Houthis


Mon, 15-01-2024 10:28 AM, Aden Time

"In our analysis of the Houthi actions and the international response we must decouple Houthi aggression and the conflict in Gaza… the war and tragedy in Gaza (Hamas-Israel war) is merely a propaganda instrument for the Houthis"

Jacob Al-Sufyani (South24)

Following an unprecedented series of attacks by the Houthis since November 19, 2023 on commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait, which the Iran-backed militia claimed are linked to Israel, the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) on Friday (January 12, 2024) launched a massive retaliatory attack on sites in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militia in Sanaa, Hodeidah, and several other governorates. The attack was carried out mainly via air strikes, launched from warships and submarines, according to the Pentagon.

Read more: US and allies strike Houthi positions across North Yemen 

Coincidentally, just like the Houthi’s launched their first-ever attack on US naval ships on January 10 in the Red Sea using a mixture of drones and missiles, that failed to cause any damage, the air strikes by the US-led multinational naval coalition on the Iran-backed militia are also the first such US and British military action against the Zaidi group (a sect of Shiites) that toppled Sanaa and other areas, mostly in North Yemen, since 2014.

How do experts who spoke to 'South24 Center' assess these strikes?

The most obvious choice

American expert and former member of the Group of Experts on Yemen in the UN Security Council, Fernando Carvajal, believes that the US Administration did not have clear options for dealing with the Houthi naval attacks other than launching the strikes.

Carvajal told 'South24 Center': “In our analysis of the Houthi actions and the international response we must decouple Houthi aggression and the conflict in Gaza… the war and tragedy in Gaza (Hamas-Israel war) is merely a propaganda instrument for the Houthis as part of the ‘Iranian Axis of Resistance’, which has failed to stand up for the Palestinian people and instead has brought devastation and death since October 7, 20231".

"The war in Gaza came at a time when the Houthis were being pressured to live up to their commitments under the deal with Saudis reached during the September meetings in Riyadh and efforts by the UN Envoy (Hans Grundberg) to return to inclusive talks," he added.

Carvajal told 'South24 Center' that "President Biden has been under mounting pressure to respond to the Houthi attacks, and their claims of attacks on Eilat (Israeli port on the Red Sea) as well. Biden did not have any other clear option left after three warnings to the Houthis in the past 15 days. The strikes came a day after the UN Security Council condemned and warned the Houthis … The UK remains the pen holder at the Council and participated in the strikes on Houthi targets on January 11, 2024."

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s position on these developments, Carvajal said: “We know KSA (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is concerned that any (military) response to the Houthis would derail their agreement from 1 April 2022 (UN-mediated truce in Yemen), but the fact that Bahrain is not only a member of ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ (US-led multi-nation security initiative in the Red Sea) but also hosts the headquarters for the task force, shows that KSA agrees that a measured response against the Houthis was desperately necessary."
“In my opinion, this measured response by the US and UK actually should serve Saudi interests. It sends a clear message to both Houthis and Iran that the US is willing and able to assist the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen to shift the balance of power on the ground in order to force the Houthis back to the negotiating table," he added.

The American expert does not rule out Iran's involvement in the escalation after what he described as “Iran's agents” attacked the US embassy in Iraq following the strikes against the Houthis2. He added: "It is clear that Iran is willing to engage in a wider conflict and will not leave Houthis alone against a wider coalition with US’ participation in the war in Yemen."

Carvajal said that “Iran cannot afford to see the Houthis lose any degree of military power on the ground as it impacts Iran’s negotiations with KSA; and Tehran cannot afford to see the Houthis lose an inch of Yemeni territory this year as it will force the Houthis to engage in talks under someone else’s terms." 

New crisis

Egyptian Major General Mohammed Zaki Al-Alfi criticized the US-UK strikes in Yemen and told 'South24 Center': “The danger as a result of these strikes will not necessarily occur now, but the consequences will show in their ability to extend further, and turn them into an open war between the Houthis in Yemen and the ‘Prosperity Guardian’ coalition countries, foremost among them the US and the UK."

“This comes because there are trends to attack interests in the entire region. These strikes represent a new obstacle to global trade, that is highlighted in the wake of what has happened over the past weeks, and even during the Ukraine war, and the crisis during the Coronavirus pandemic," he added.

He continued: "Of course, threatening a movement like the Houthis with open war is an extremely dangerous matter. Their attacks could then include all ships after they were limited to only those linked to Israel, according to what they declare. This will lead to further diversion of ships from the Red Sea, as has happened to some extent during the past weeks."

Al-Alfi pointed out that this matter “has its risks and its consequences and repercussions, the most important of which is that the migration of these ships (away from the Red Sea, to the long route around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa) will lead to an increase in the cost of shipping, a greater distance, a delay in the arrival of goods to places, a slowdown in global navigation and trade, an additional increase in fuel consumption and costs, and much more from exposure to other risks, such as piracy, if sailing around Africa."

"This will not be in the interests of the international or global economy or the region, in addition, of course, to the severe and dangerous economic repercussions on the Suez Canal and the economic impact of this on Egypt in particular. This is considered one of the most dangerous aspects of these strikes," he added.

Warning strikes

Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Information, Osama Al-Shermy, told ‘South24 Center’ that the US-UK strikes “are nothing more than warning strikes through which the US does not want the map of the conflict that has been raging in Gaza for nearly three months to expand.” He added: “This is why we see the Houthi militia exploiting the issue in a propaganda way, first at the expense of Yemen, then at the expense of international trade, and also at the expense of values and morals, and war and peace treaties.”

Al-Shermy believes that these strikes, "although justified by some as a result of the Houthi’s piracy actions, are useless against the (Houthi) militia." He added: "If there are serious intentions on the part of the international community (to solve the Yemen problem), it should be by supporting the cancellation of the Hodeidah Agreement 3 and supporting government forces in confronting the Houthi militia."

"We hope that the legitimate government will cooperate with the international community in cutting off Iran's arms and proxies on the shores of the Red Sea," Al-Shermy said.

Hostile strikes

Sanaa-based political analyst Rsheed Al-Haddad describes the US-UK strikes as “hostile” acts. He told 'South24 Center': “The operations carried out by the US and UK aircraft on a number of Yemeni governorates that are under the control of the Sanaa government4 are hostile acts and are considered among the failed operations whose aim is to eliminate the military and air capacity of the Houthi movement.”

He added: "But so far it has failed miserably. Therefore, despite the US and UK sides announcing that this operation had ended on Friday evening, operations are still continuing in Hodeidah Governorate and a number of governorates. Here in Sanaa, at dawn today [on January 13] an air base was targeted. All of these strikes are a response to the Sanaa attack on US forces in the Red Sea (on January 10), which likely caused damage that Washington did not acknowledge".

"The equation is very clear and easy and it's as follows: Stopping the war in Gaza and bringing in food aid to save hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in exchange for reducing the escalation in the Red Sea. But it seems that the US, UK, and the so-called Prosperity Guardian coalition are seeking to militarize the Red Sea," Al-Haddad added.


Southern political analyst Osan Bin Siddah does not believe that the Western strikes will stop the Houthi operations against international shipping. He told 'South24 Center': “The October 7 events that took place around Gaza were not a surprise to the Houthis, as they knew in advance that there was a clash, or an upcoming battle. They (Houthis) launched attacks that I believe harmed Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Red Sea countries more than Israel and the US."

"The Houthis will continue, as the strikes directed at them will not limit their military capabilities. It is known that they launch their missile and drone attacks from mobile platforms5 that cannot be destroyed by bombing fixed targets, and this is what their war with Saudi Arabia demonstrated," Bin Siddah said.
He believes that these strikes will gain the Houthis sympathy in the Yemeni and Arab streets and additional political weight. He added: “We in South Yemen are exposed in one way or another to the repercussions of these developments, and we need more political, diplomatic and military efforts to deal with all of this.”


Yemeni political analyst Riadh Alahmadi believes that the strikes should prompt the Houthis to review their calculations. He told 'South24 Center': “For us as Yemenis, I do not imagine that anyone wants foreign intervention, but we do not have a choice. All we have to say is that this development, which puts the political process on an unknown path, must be an engine in return that pushes the Houthis to review and extend their hands to other Yemeni parties because stubbornness will create a tragedy.”

Alahmadi continued: "These strikes are the result of uncalculated actions by the Houthis. The Yemenis are paying the price for the control by regionally-supported militia of the state's capital, Sanaa, and over strategic cities such as Hodeidah."

On Saturday (January 13, 2024), the United States announced that it had bombed a Houthi military target in Sanaa at dawn. Press sources also reported that air strikes later occurred in the coastal city of Hodeidah. Although these strikes theoretically serve the Houthis' Yemeni and even regional opponents, the Yemeni government implicitly considered them a violation of sovereignty and in a statement on Friday accused the Houthis of dragging Yemen into an international war.

Also, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) has not officially announced its position yet, while the spokesperson for the National Resistance Forces in Hodeidah (a political component headed by Tariq Saleh), Sadiq Dawid, described the US-UK strikes as “unacceptable foreign interference”. At the same level, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt expressed their concern about these developments. This is the same position issued by the United Nations' envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg.

The day Hamas launched its ‘Al-Aqsa Storm Operation’ attack on Israel.
2 Sirens were heard at the US Embassy in Iraq Thursday night (January 11), according to reports on social media, with unconfirmed reports of a bomb attack, hours after the US-UK strikes on the Houthis.
3 A UN-brokered agreement to demilitarize the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah signed in 2018 between the Yemen government and the Houthis. The Yemeni government insists on a complete handover of Hodeidah by the Houthis, which the latter has rejected. The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of goods and relief aid to Yemen.
4 The Houthis control several regions in North Yemen, most notably the capital Sanaa.
5 The New York Times in a report quoted two unnamed US officials as saying on Saturday (January 13) that the US-UK strikes had only destroyed or damaged about 20-30% of the Houthis' offensive capabilities. Most of the Houthis’ weapons systems can be moved and hidden quickly as they are on mobile platforms, the report said.

Director of the regional office of the South24 Center for News and Studies in Aden.

YemenExpertsHouthisMaritime securityUSCoalitionUNRed Sea