A Yemeni carries a rocket launcher during participating in a gathering near Sanaa to express support to the Shiite Houthi movement on February 21, 2019 (By Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

The Houthis Military Escalation: Messages and Goals


Tue, 18-07-2023 10:46 AM, Aden Time

The Houthi escalation reflects the militia's conviction that weapons and force are the most effective means to reach the gains that can't be obtained through negotiations

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

The Iran-backed Houthi militias have escalated their military activities against the Southern forces and other fronts in North Yemen over the past two months. From May 1 to July 13 this year, the militia carried out 51 attacks monitored by "South24 Center" in the governorates of Al-Dhalea, Lahj, Shabwa, Abyan and Harib front in Marib the adjacent to Shabwa.

The attacks killed and injured tens of the Southern forces' members. On the other hand, the Houthis incurred heavy losses which are often hushed up. The militias used drones, mortars, snipers, and infiltration attempts. They also launched a missile toward Shabwa. The Southern forces repelled most of the attacks. However, the drone attacks harmed them.

In addition to this escalation at the battle fronts, the Houthi militias carried out military parades in areas adjacent to South Yemen in Ibb and Dhamar. Furthermore, they launched attacks in Marib and Sanaa. Their leaders have continuously threatened to resume the war and end the current de-escalation phase which has been in place in the country since the official expiration of the UN-mediated truce in October.

Between the maneuver and pressure strategy to achieve political gains or the real tendency toward the war, there are various explanations for this Houthi military escalation which has been basically directed toward South Yemen. The timing related to the bilateral talks between Riyadh and the Northern group also adds more questions. This is in addition to what the South Yemen arena has experienced through moves that aim at distracting the STC, which is the Houthis’ archenemy. 

Military escalation

Between May 1 and July 13 this year, the Houthi attacks against the Southern forces were about 51 operations in the governorates of Al-Dhalea, Lahj, Abyan, and Shabwa. This is in addition to the Harib District front in Marib (North Yemen), adjacent to Shabwa where the Southern Giants Brigades have deployed since being liberated in early 2022.

With nearly 30 attacks, Al-Dhalea had the biggest share of the Houthi escalation. Meanwhile, the Houthis launched about 12 attacks against Yafa and Kirsh fronts and 3 attacks against the Shabwa Defense Forces in the border areas of Merkhah Al Ulya and Beihan in addition to 4 attacks against the Southern forces in Harib.

In Abyan, the Southern forces were targeted with 2 attacks on Thura front the adjacent to Al-Bayda.

The Houthi militias largely relied on drones to carry out 17 attacks while they used mortars 12 times. They made 9 failed infiltration attempts which led to violent clashes, northwest of the Al-Dhalea and Hayfan front in Lahj. 

Additionally, they carried out 9 attacks by using artillery and machine guns as well as 9 sniping operations on the Yafa, Kirsh, and Al-Dhalea fronts. Some attacks cause civilian casualties as well as damage in homes and farms northwest of Al-Dhalea. Moreover, the militias launched a missile against Merkhah Al Ulya district on May 31. 

The Houthi attacks killed 13 and injured 16 of Southern forces, with a total of 29 Southern soldiers. 

On the other hand, the Houthi militias admitted that tens of their members were killed. This was published by Saba news agency, affiliated with the Houthis. Local statistics said that the Houthis lost about 284 elements during the first half of this year. 

The victims of the Houthi attacks against the Southern forces between May 1-July 13 [51 attacks] “South24 Center


Death toll

The governorate












Marib [Harib]

Parades and visits 

On June 20, thousands of Houthi elements made a march from Dhamar to Ibb to Taiz. The militia’s media platforms said that the number of soldiers was 10,000, affiliated with the Fourth Military District. 

In early June, the Houthi militias carried out military parades to commemorate the so-called “Yum Al-Welaya" during the Shiite "Eid Al-Ghadir". They made this near the Saudi borders and in Sirwah in Marib. The Houthi militias' media outlets published celebration photos in the Kitaf and Al-Buqa in Saada governorate.

Furthermore, the militias sent tens of their leaders and officials to different fronts as part of the Eid Al-Adha's visits to fighters. The most prominent visit was l was conducted by the Houthi Defense Minister, Mohammed Nasser Al-Atifi, to the surrounding fronts in Al-Dhalea. From there, Al-Atifi threatened Saudi Arabia to resume war.

On June 28, Al-Atifi visited the Kirsh and Al-Qabbayta fronts between Taiz and Lahj as well as other fronts within Taiz.

The militia's goals

Military expert and colonel Waddah Al-Oubali put the latest Houthi escalation toward South Yemen as part of the conflict with the STC.

He told "South24 Center": "One of the most important reasons for escalation is the Houthi desire to respond to the latest moves by STC forces toward south-east". He believes that the Houthi attacks' focus on the Dhalea and Lahj fronts, in particular, came as part of their attempts to respond in fronts where they have been broken for 8 years.

"The militia also aims to declare the power option which partially threatens people in areas under their control while sending other messages to the anti-Houthi forces or pressuring the parties that negotiate with the Houthis in Muscat and others," he added.

Al-Oubali noted that the Houthis exploited the previous truce to boost their military capabilities. He added that "the militia undoubtedly exploited the truce period to rebuild its forces which reached the point of exhaustion in late 2021".

Southern academic Dr. Saeed Al-Jariri believes that "all Houthi attacks in South Yemen fall within the framework of their war with the Arab Coalition for negotiating purposes and to send internal and external messages entitled: I am the strongest".

He told "South24 Center": "The STC is the force which is equivalent to the Houthis in the power criteria on the ground in the Yemeni scene. Therefore, the Houthis escalated against the Southern forces to consolidate their position in the bilateral talks with the Saudis".

Asil Al-Saqladi, the director of the media center of the Southern Giants Brigades, believes that attacks and military parades denote "a state of weakness and helplessness experienced by the militia".

He told "South24 Center": "The Houthi military parades and maneuvers amid pacification in the country reflect their weakness and insolvency. They think that this escalation will affect the outcomes of consultations and diplomatic moves that seek for rapprochement and a comprehensive political solution".

He added: "Their goals include attracting people in the areas under their control. By these parades amid pacification, the Houthis have attempted to delude them by pretending that they are the strongest party. In fact, these militias currently hide behind pacification and peace endeavours. All these parades will disappear with the return of military operations".

Al-Saqladi stressed that the Houthi escalation doesn't scare anyone. He said: "We are aware of how weak they are. They are like soap bubbles".

The Houthi escalation reflects the militia's conviction that weapons and force are the most effective means to reach the gains that can't be obtained through negotiations according to observers who spoke to "South24 Center". This has been enhanced because the Houthis are confident about the lack of reactions by countries and parties which undertake diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and establish peace.

Abdullah Al-Shadli 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

South YemenHouthisMilitary escalationNorth YemenAdenSanaaSouthern ForcesSaudi Arabia