US and UK attack against the Houthis in Yemen: what we know and what the risks are

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At the first light of January 12, 2024 (02:30 in Sana’a, capital of Yemen) one coalition of countries coordinated by United States of America bombed, with more than 100 missiles, 60 objectives sensitive in 16 locations monitored by Houthis. Houthis who are a rebel group who are in control of much of the YemenMiddle Eastern country overlooking Red Sea And Gulf of Aden south of Saudi Arabia.

The coalition is formed not only by the USA and by United Kingdomfrom 8 other countries: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea. The reasons for the US and British response are varied: support Israel in the conflict against Hamas in Palestine, harm an ally of Iran in the Middle East, but above all protect global trade.

In fact, starting from 17 October 2023, the Houthis have created various missile attacks against numerous cargo and commercial ships passing through the Red Sea, putting global trade in check and forcing various vessels to circumnavigate Africa. This has increased travel times and transport costs – and therefore the final prices of finished products – and damaged countries such asItalywhose ports thus risk remaining cut off from the main trade routes.

In this article and in the video above we understand in more detail who the Houthis are, the reasons for their attacks and the reasons for the US response; we also try to hypothesize possible future scenarios: could a large war break out throughout the Middle East?

Middle east yemen houthi map

Who are the Houthis and the civil war in Yemen

In a nutshell, in Yemen from 2014 to 2023in alternating phases, a very bloody event occurred civil war which unfortunately caused the death more than 100,000 civilians. The internal conflict has not ended at the moment, but has only been frozen in one truce thanks to the mediation of China. The winning faction for now is that of the Houthisa Shiite armed group, allied with Iran and born in 1992 which currently controls the most important parts of the country: the north-west, the capital Sana’a and the coast overlooking the Red Sea.

houthi yemen map

The civil war, in reality, saw the direct and indirect participation of forces outside Yemen, allied to different factions. Let’s talk for example about theIran, an ally of the Houthis for political-religious reasons, which finances them and sends them weapons such as missiles and drones; and of theSaudi Arabia and gods United Arab Emiratesopponents of the group in question and therefore currently defeated.

In this sense the conflict in Yemen had both among its causes internal issues – dramatic socio-economic conditions and rivalry between various power groups – both external issues To the country. In the Middle East, in fact, a challenge has been active for centuries and centuries geopolitical control of the region. And Iran – that is, ancient Persia – and Saudi Arabia are two of the main poles of attraction and influence and – for this reason – deeply rivals of each other.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, that is, since the times of the Persian Empire and then of the Arab Empire have been trying to conquer or attract into their own area of ​​influence as many areas of the Middle East as possible and therefore they had and have an interest and need to challenge each other in Yemen too.

iran vs saudi arabia middle east

Why the Houthis attacked ships in the Red Sea

The Houthis have always declared themselves enemies of Israel and the United States and, above all, since the beginning of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, they have openly taken sides defence of the latter and, more generally, of Palestinian Arab people. From 17 October 2023 they began to attack numerous cargo and merchant ships heading from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and Israel. The official count so far stands at 27 vessels, with problems caused to more than 55 nations.

In addition to concretely supporting Hamas from a political and military point of view and damaging two declared enemies (USA and Israel), the Houthi attacks also have other objectives. Two of the most important are to show yourself internationally and in the Middle East as a strong, capable and active actor, with the purpose of being more recognized and considered; and, on the other hand, try to direct theinternal public opinion on an issue external to the country, given the enormous difficulties that the Houthis are having in solving the serious socio-economic problems present in the territories they control.

Houthis

The damage of the Houthis to global trade and to Italy

The United States of America they base a lot of their own influence globally on their ability to control and defend the global tradeglobal trade that occurs for80-90% by sea. To do this, in particular, they keep under control the nodes of the main maritime routes, the bottlenecks through which ships are forced to pass, which in English are called choke pointsi.e. suffocation points.

Choke points map

Here, the Houthis are currently putting one of the main ones in check choke point world. In fact, they concretely threaten naval traffic in the Strait of Bab el-Mandebbetween Yemen and Djibouti, which connects the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, but above all Asia – and therefore China, Korea, Japan, South-East Asia, India, the Middle East – to Europe, including Italy.

Consider that it is estimated that the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb passes through the 10% of world maritime trafficincluding the crucial one from an energy point of view of natural gas and oil, the use of which unfortunately contributes to global warming, but currently, for example, it still allows us to largely heat our homes. So do you have any idea what it means from an economic and social point of view to damage or block trade at such a point?

Naval routes Asia Europe Red Sea

If they cannot pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, merchant ships they are forced to circumnavigate Africaas was done before the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869, passing the Cape of Good Hope, and lengthening the route of approximately 3000 nautical miles, that is, more 5,500 km. In terms of time we talk about approx two weeks of extra travelwith a consequent notable increase in the final prices of the goods we then purchase.

L’Italy has a lot to lose in a situation where the Red Sea is no longer passable. Ships arriving from Asia, in fact, already often pass through the Mediterranean just to reach the big ones ports of northern Europehaving to circumnavigate Africa, will have less and less interest in stopping in our ports and this could cause us serious economic and, consequently, social problems

Naval routes Asia Europe circumnavigation Africa

The attack in Yemen by Americans and allies

Before attacking a week ago, the United States and its allies had given the Houthis an ultimatum, ordering them to stop compromising navigation in the Red Sea. The latter, however, continued and so the coalition coordinated by the USA proceeded to bombard, with more than 100 missiles, 60 objectives sensitive in 16 locations monitored by Houthis. We are talking about military posts, structures and infrastructure, such as missile and drone launch sites, radars and warehouses that contain weapons, ammunition and rockets.

Here, let’s reiterate one thing: Italy was not involved in the attack. Furthermore, the bombing does not even fall within the Operation Prosperity Guardian which, for those who don’t know, is a defense coalition, made up of over 20 states, which should monitor the area to allow maritime trade to proceed normally.

Possible future scenarios

Following the attack, the Russia immediately criticized the US and UK action and urgently called for a meeting of the UN Security Council, the China she said she was very worried that the conflict could spread in the area andIran and the Türkiye they condemned the bombing. The Houthis, for their part, reiterated that this operation will not stop them and they will continue to act.

THE possible scenarios they are different at the moment. Everything will depend on what the Yemeni group’s moves will really be. If missile attacks on boats resume, it is likely that the United States and its allies may proceed with new bombings; otherwise the matter should freeze.

What is certain is that if the situation were to evolve for the worse, it cannot be ruled out that other regional players, such as theIran or Hezbollah (another ally of Hamas, Houthis and Iran), may feel led to intervene in defense of their allies or that of them United Statesfailing to stop the Houthis with missile attacks alone, may decide to bring a land attackhowever risking scenarios such as those of the very long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In short, the risk that the conflict could progressively expand to other areas of the Middle East, linking to the war between Israel and Hamas, exists. We obviously hope that doesn’t happen.