More than 20,000 fighters graduated from the first batch of Al-Aqsa flood courses in Hajjah governorate (Houthis Saba Agency)

Houthis' Gains From the War in Gaza


Thu, 04-01-2024 04:13 PM, Aden

With the ongoing Israeli war in Gaza, it seems that the Houthi gains in Yemen will continue at all levels.

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

Despite risking their involvement in a possible direct war with the United States and Israel in the Red Sea due to their maritime attacks, the Iran-backed Houthi militia have been able to achieve several gains from the war in Gaza at the political, military, economic, and social levels. The most prominent Houthi gains are detailed below:

The military gains

Under a campaign called ’Al-Aqsa Storm’ (taken from the name of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel), the Houthis launched open training courses over the past weeks in different governorates of North Yemen through which they have recruited tens of thousands of tribal gunmen. On November 13, the Houthis announced the graduation of some battalions during a military maneuver by the “border guards” in Saada, on the borders with Saudi Arabia. 

On November 16, the Houthis announced the recruitment of 10,000 tribal gunmen in Dhamar Governorate as part of the ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ course. On December 2, they organized a military parade in Sanaa's Sabeen Square to announce the graduation of other batches. The parade featured two Russian MiG-29 planes, seized by the Houthis from the stores of the Yemeni army, according to press sources. On December 10, the group announced the recruitment of 15,000 fighters in Saada.

On December 20, the Houthis announced the recruitment of 23,000 fighters in Amran Governorate, and on December 24, they announced recruiting 20,000 fighters in Hajjah. Besides, they announced the recruitment of new batches in Bajil in Hodeidah and other districts in the governorate.

Elaborating on this factor, American expert Fernando Carvajal, who served as an armed groups and regional expert on the UN Security Council panel of experts on Yemen, believes that “the Houthi escalation in the Bab al-Mandab Strait area can be considered a clear evidence of their empowerment and growing military capabilities since they signed the truce in April 2022”. He was referring to the UN-sponsored truce of April 2, 2022 signed between the internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthis.

He told ’South24 Center‘: “We know that the aim behind this agreement has never been securing a cease-fire in Yemen but to avoid any Houthi cross-border strikes in return for a Saudi promise not to launch airstrikes against the Houthi locations inside Yemen.”

According to Carvajal, “It has been confirmed that the source of almost all missiles and drones launched against the Israeli port of Eilat was Iraq or Syria. However, there is no doubt that the Houthis were the ones who launched drones and missiles over Saudi territories and in the Red Sea. However, these were intercepted by the US naval forces.”

Military expert Colonel Waddah Al-Oubali told ’South24 Center‘ that “the Houthis have made use of the Gaza war to expand their military presence in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab. Accordingly, this also signifies the growing influence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

He added: “These operations, by the Houthi militia in the Red Sea, are carried out at the behest of Iran. The world knows this. The most conclusive evidence to prove this is the recent statement by the Iranian Defense Minister (Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani) that the Red Sea is an Iranian region in which it has a presence. He certainly means the Iranian presence in the areas controlled by the Houthis.”*

On December 22, ’The Wall Street Journal‘ in a report said that “an Iranian spy ship is helping Houthis direct attacks on vessels in the Red Sea”. The report, citing Western and regional security officials, said that Iran is providing real-time intelligence to the Houthis which the militia are using to direct drone and missile attacks on ships passing through the Red Sea.

On Monday (January 1, 2024), Iranian media platforms reported that Iranian warship Alborz passed through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and entered the Red Sea along with intelligence ship ’Shahabad‘.

One day prior to this, the US Central Command announced that its military helicopters from two warships, stationed south of the Red Sea, sank three small Houthi boats and killed their crew. This was confirmed by the Houthis, who said that 10 of their members on the boats were killed in the firing.

Political gains

At the political level, Carvajal believes that the Houthi militia have benefited from the Gaza war as their latest attacks have helped to enhance their standing in the negotiations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

According to him “the Houthis realize the importance of maritime trade for Dubai and the oil market. However, they aim to affect the normalization process between Israel and the UAE. Let’s remember that Hamas’ October 7 operation came amid the growing momentum in the normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia in late September, and seven months after the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement agreement in Beijing in March.”

He added: “The Houthis have other goals from these military operations, including generating popular support for their cause among Muslims and anti-Israeli groups within the global audience. The Houthis and their supporters in the United States and Western Europe have condemned the alleged Saudi siege on North Yemen over the past nine years. But, in contrast, they praise the current siege imposed by the Houthis on the Bab al-Mandab Strait by using missiles and drones.” 

Carvajal believes that launching missiles and drones in the direction of the US Naval ships, under instructions from the Iranian army or as part of random operations, is a worrying development. He said that “if the Houthis continue these reckless operations, the Biden Administration will be forced to allow launching of strikes against Houthi targets. The US President can’t sustain losing points in the US electoral polls through his weak position toward the Houthis and Iran.”

Economic gains

On October 18, the Houthi-controlled Central Bank in Sanaa issued general instructions to all exchange companies, which operate networks of local money transfers in their areas, to launch a popular campaign under the name of “supporting Palestinian people” through these firms.

The instructions stressed that all financial remittances related to the campaign have to be deposited in its bank account before transferring the donations at the beginning of the next work day to the Central Bank’s Account No. 60000 in Sanaa while maintaining notifications of the transferred amounts of money. 

Over the past weeks, the Houthis have gathered more than 1 billion and half million Yemeni riyals with the purported aim of supporting the Palestinian factions. On November 20, the Zakat Authority in Sanaa announced the launching of a campaign to support Palestine with 1.390 billion Yemeni riyals under the instructions of Houthi Leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi.

Prior to that, on October 29, the Houthi’s ’Al-Nasr Brigades‘ said it had delivered 132.5 million Yemeni riyals to the Palestinian factions as donations from its members. This is in addition to the nearly 50 million Yemeni riyals that were collected from the so-called “special forces” in Sanaa on November 27. On November 30, the ’General Women Cultural Authority‘ in the Houthi areas delivered 40 million Yemeni riyals. The Houthi media said that women sold their gold and jewelry to arrange for the money.

Yemeni economic expert Salman Al-Maqrami believes that “the Houthis have employed the Gaza war to achieve many economic goals”. He told ’South24 Center‘: “On October 11, four days after the Palestinian factions’ attack (on Israel), the Houthis issued a decree that allows the Finance Minister in their government, the Prime Minister and the Head of the Political Council to impose new taxes and customs duties.”

He pointed out that this new law also includes a series of taxes – going up to 20% - imposed on the commercial and industrial sectors at the level of the sales, revenues and income 

It appears that the Houthi’s economic gains haven’t stopped at this limit. The sanctions imposed by the US Treasury against individuals and entities linked to Iran that funded the Houthis, the latest of which were recently issued, reveal the growing support delivered by the Islamic Republic to the Yemeni militia to continue their maritime attacks.

During a virtual webinar, organized by ’South24 Center‘ on September 25, Adrian Calamel, American researcher in terrorism and the Middle East region, warned that Iran’s agents in the Middle East, including the Houthi militias, benefit from the $6 billion Iranian frozen funds in South Korea. Washington unfroze this money in return for the release of American detainees in Iran.

Related: Webinar: Experts Call for Strengthening Counter-Terrorism Efforts in South Yemen 

Moral and propaganda gains

Due to the massive popularity of the Yemeni cause among the Yemenis in particular and Muslims in general, the Houthis have exploited the latest Gaza war to bolster their image that was at a low critical point in Sanaa and other North Yemeni cities before the latest Israeli war, according to global newspapers. 

In this regard, psychological expert Ayman Al-Yamani told ’South24 Center‘ that “the Houthis have been very cunning to exploit what is happening in Gaza to serve their own interests. They plant themselves at the forefront of those who defend Palestine and have thereby turned the attention on to themselves.”

He added: “Through acts of piracy and cutting off navigation in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, under the pretext of besieging Israel, in addition to claims of bombing Eilat with missiles and drones, the Houthis have really been able to gain public sympathy and support, not only internally but also externally.”

Al-Yamani believes that the praise by some Palestinian factions for the Houthi acts has also helped to burnish the Houthi image,

With the ongoing Israeli war in Gaza, it seems that the Houthi gains in Yemen will continue at all levels. The Houthis have possibly realized that their gains now exceed the likely risks involved in continuing with their current approach. The risks include possible American strikes against them, the US’ re-designation of the group as a terrorist organization and the economic consequences that can hit the whole of Yemen as a result of the growing shipping costs at the ports. 

*On December 14, the Iranian Defense Minister referred to the Red Sea as “our region” and warned that “nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance”, amid attacks by the Houthis on commercial shipping off the coast of Yemen.

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

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

North YemenHouthisGazaPalestineIsraelRed SeaSanaaAl-Aqsa Flood