The Sun

Here’s Why the US Reportedly Tipped the Houthis Off Before Last Week’s Strikes


Mon, 15-01-2024 04:24 PM, Aden

It remains to be seen whether the Houthis are pragmatic enough to keep their tensions with the US below that threshold or if they’re so ideologically committed to Hamas that they don’t care about risking their loss of control over North Yemen by escalating out of solidarity with their ally’s war against Israel.

Andrew Korybko (South24) 

Sky News Arabia cited unnamed sources to report that the US allegedly tipped the Houthis off before last week’s strikes, which exploited a recent UNSC Resolution that Russia declined to veto for the reasons explained here, thus giving that Yemeni rebel group time to prepare by moving around their missiles. According to them, this was done to prevent the Houthis from reacting in a way that would further escalate the Red Sea crisis such as by trying to take out an American ship in response. 

It was predicted here last month that there might be a replication of January 2020’s scenario wherein Iran reportedly tipped off the US before attacking its bases in Iraq after Soleimani’s assassination. The purpose behind doing so was also to prevent a further escalation, which is precisely what happened after the US played along, at least if one ascribes to that interpretation of events. While it’s too early to tell whether this was also the case with the Houthis, it’s still notable that they haven’t yet responded. 

From the perspective of that group’s interests, there’s a logic in not trying to take out an American ship in response since doing so would almost certainly lead to an unprecedented bombing campaign that would greatly degrade their military capabilities and possibly lead to their destruction. Some Alt-Media commentators never tire of reminding their audience that the Saudis couldn’t do this despite almost a decade of trying, but their capabilities and will aren’t equivalent to the US’ as proven by precedent. 

The examples of 2003 Iraq, 2011 Libya, and the bombings of Mosul and Raqqa show that the US doesn’t care if its “shock-and-awe” bombings kill countless civilians, unlike the Saudis who are still somewhat more sensitive to such casualties despite their own attacks against civilian targets in Yemen. The sinking of an American ship would galvanize the public in support of a ruthless punishment campaign just like Hamas’ sneak attack galvanized the Israeli one and there’s nothing that anyone could do to stop it. 

Many of the aforementioned Alt-Media commentators have also suggested that the US secretly wants the Houthis to sink one of their ships in order to have the justification for bombing Yemen, possibly to distract from Ukraine and/or Gaza, but this theory ignores three main points. For starters, the sinking of an American ship would inflict massive damage to that country’s prestige as well as entail enormous financial and military costs, which the US is unlikely to regard as an acceptable trade-off. 

Second, the US doesn’t even need to manufacture such an expensive pretext to bomb Yemen since it regularly does whatever its policymakers want without the public or the international community intervening to stop it. Its latest anti-Houthi strikes are a case in point after Russia and even Iran limited their response to rhetoric, with nobody wanting to risk World War III by attacking the US out of solidarity with that impoverished rebel group whose self-declared government isn’t recognized by the UN. 

And finally, the most important point that discredits the previously described theory that’s proliferating through the Alt-Media Community right now is that the US actually doesn’t want to wage an all-out war against the Houthis, which is likely why it reportedly tipped them off ahead of last week’s strikes. No one should doubt that there’d probably be fire and fury if the Houthis sunk a US ship, but its policymakers would prefer not to expend finite resources on this unless they feel forced to do so to save face. 

After all, the Biden Administration revoked its predecessor’s designation of the Houthis as terrorists precisely because they didn’t think that the Saudis’ war against them was worth perpetuating any further, instead preferring to pursue a diplomatic solution to this hybrid civil-international conflict. These calculations remain up until the present in spite of that group’s attacks against civilian vessels, but it was their spree of such attacks that forced the US to strike them in the first place in order to save face. 

At the same time, however, its policymakers also didn’t want to escalate the Red Sea crisis any further and that’s why they reportedly tipped the Houthis off ahead of time. Just like Iran reportedly wanted to reduce the chances of the US responding to their attacks against its bases in Iraq after Soleimani’s assassination in a way that risked a larger war, so too did the US want to do the same vis-à-vis the Houthis when it came to last week’s strikes. 

Both Iran and the US had to respond to that general’s assassination and the Houthis’ attacks against civilian vessels respectively in order to save face, but neither wanted to get embroiled in an all-out war either, thus explaining why each reportedly tipped their targets off in advance. If that’s indeed what happened last week, then the Houthis might have gone along with this in order to preserve their hold over North Yemen, which they’d be at risk of losing if they sunk a US ship and provoked a larger war. 

In that event, they might either scale back their attacks after losing some of their capabilities following last week’s strikes against radar facilities and other sites that were involved in planning them, or they might defiantly continue them and provoke more reportedly choreographed strikes. The first scenario provides the Houthis with a face-saving de-escalation pretext while the second would keep up the charade, but any serious escalation such as sinking a US ship would almost certainly lead to a larger war. 

It remains to be seen whether the Houthis are pragmatic enough to keep their tensions with the US below that threshold or if they’re so ideologically committed to Hamas that they don’t care about risking their loss of control over North Yemen by escalating out of solidarity with their ally’s war against Israel. Their Iranian patron would probably advise them not to sink a US ship though since risking the loss of their gains over the past decade might not be deemed by Tehran as geopolitically worth the cost. 

From the Islamic Republic’s perspective, it’s better to retain proxy control over that chunk of Yemen than to recklessly provoke the US into destroying the Houthis and giving the Saudi-led coalition a belated victory in that war. Of course, the Houthis might not listen to their patron, but they’d likely be signing their death warrant in that case since Iran couldn’t save them if the US decided to wage an all-out war of destruction against that group like it did against Saddam, Gaddafi, and ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa. 

Andrew Korybko

Moscow-based American political analyst specializing

* Opinions expressed in this analysis reflects its author.

YemenHouthisUSBiden AdministrationUKRed Sea