Who are Yemen’s Houthis and why are they slowing down ship traffic in the Red Sea

In the last few days the Houthis are at the center of international news due to the slowdown and, in some cases, the block In the Red Sea from the merchant ships directed to Israel, as a form of retaliation and pressure against Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip. The United States, with the international naval mission Prosperity Guardian, made up of numerous countries includingItaly, declared that they will ensure safety and freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, allowing global trade to function normally. But who are the Houthis and how do they fit into the current situation of the war between Israel and Hamas? Let’s see it together.

  • 1The Houthis in Israel’s war against Hamas
  • 2The International Coalition for Security in the Red Sea
  • 3Italian involvement
  • 4History: who are the Houthis
  • 5Context: the bloody war in Yemen

Attention: the Israeli-Palestinian issue is extremely complex and delicate and we are aware that any type of summary risks omitting information; therefore this article must be seen in the context of the contents that we have proposed and that we will propose in the coming days. We therefore invite you not to miss them: you can find everything in the Israel-Palestine War category of our site. Please know that our aim is to make people understand the geopolitical situation with maximum neutrality and stimulate interest in further insights.

The Houthis in Israel’s war against Hamas

How do the Houthis fit into the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas? The Houthis they have always declared themselves against Israel and against the United States and, within the group of Arab countries, together with‘Iran they are deployed in defense of the Palestinian people. Since last October, Houthi leader Mohammed Abdul Salam has announced his entry into the conflict against Israel alongside Hamas and the resistance axis led by Iran. Since then, attacks have begun against numerous cargo and merchant ships from Red Sea they were headed to Israel.

In fact, the Houthis hold control of maritime traffic from Strait of Bab el-Mandeb they go back towards the Red Sea, between the coast of Yemen and that of Djibouti, where it is estimated that 12% of global maritime traffic transits. Merchant ships, therefore, they are forced to circumnavigate the African continent passing through the Cape of Good Hopelengthening the route by approximately 3000 nautical miles (each nautical mile corresponds to 1,852 km, for a total of over 5,500 km more).


The International Coalition for Security in the Red Sea

On Monday 18 December, the US secretary of defense Lloyd Austin announced the creation of a naval mission international, nicknamed “Prosperity Guardian”, in which Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the Seychelles and the United States will participate. Spainwhich was initially included in the list, has announced that it will only intervene in the context of one mission agreed within the framework of BORN or the European Union, thus denying its “unilateral” participation. The coalition is tasked with protecting maritime traffic of merchant ships in the Red Sea, which block represents a serious economic and energy supply loss (especially oil and liquid gas) for many Western countries.

The Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdul Salam announced however that this mission will have no effect on their position towards what is happening to Gaza. The Houthis have in fact declared: “When Gaza is safe, the Red Sea will be safe. But as long as Gaza is suffering, the Red Sea will sufferr” (“When Gaza is safe, the Red Sea will be safe. But as long as Gaza suffers, the Red Sea will also suffer”).

Initially the Houthis had announced that the ships targeted would have been exclusively those destined for Israel, as an instrument of pressure on the Jewish State and against the siege and bombings taking place in Gaza, but following the creation of the international mission they announced that any ship that tries to attack will be considered a target, threatening attacks every 12 hours.


Italian involvement

L’Italy is one of the countries part of the mission Prosperity Guardian to ensure the navigation safety in the Red Sea. There Italian navy in fact, it officially announced on December 19th the sending of the frigate rocketry “Virginio Fasan” in the Suez Canal. Virginio Fasan was a petty officer of the Navy, awarded the silver medal in the field in the waters of Pantelleria in 1942.

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto announced the dispatch of the ship, reiterating the importance of safeguarding the international economy which could suffer a serious supply shock of raw materials and to “guarantee freedom of navigation and international law”. Furthermore, Italy has already been part of the Atalanta mission, the first maritime military operation of the European Union: numerous naval units monitor and surveil “suspicious activities attributable to the phenomenon of piracy” in the area between the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and part of the Indian Ocean.

History: who are the Houthis

The Houthis, or Houthis, are a political and military group from Yemen, born in 1992. They define themselves Partisans of God (Anṣār Allāh) or Believing Youth and since 2014 they have controlled the north of Yemen and the capital Sana’a, as well as the coast overlooking the Red Sea. They are in the majority Zaydi Shia: Zaydism is a moderate current of Shiism that takes its name from Zayd, son of the fourth Shiite Imam (head and moral and spiritual guide of Islam), Zayn al-Abidin. The Zaydism it has theological positions that are in some ways close to the Sunnis despite being a group with a Shiite majority and in the political field it has distinguished itself for its “militant” characteristics and its fight against oppression.

The Houthis are close to Iranian government, Country with a Shiite majority, which finances the group’s armaments: the Houthis in fact own a military arsenal including powerful anti-ship missiles and drones. The first name Houthis derives from the founders of the group, the brothers Ḥusayn Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥūthī and Muḥammad Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥūthī, killed in 2004 by the regular Yemeni armed forces.


Context: the bloody war in Yemen

The Yemen was crossed by a bloody and devastating civil war which caused more than 100,000 deaths civilians and which the UN has defined “humanitarian catastrophe”. But let’s go back: following the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Houthis tried to conquer the main Yemeni strongholds by fighting against the national government, at the time led by the President Ali Abdullah Saleh and calling for political reforms.

The following year, in 2012there was a change of government and the Sunni Abed Rabbo Marsour Hadi he became the President leading the country, trying to create a situation of stability in Yemen and promising reforms, in one of the poorest countries in the world. In reality, both the economic crisis and problems related to food security led some Houthi groups, still linked to former President Saleh, to the rebellion, taking control of the northern province of the capital Sana’a and surrounding areas. Thus President Hadi was forced toexiletaking refuge in Saudi Arabia.

In the 2015 there was an escalation of civil warwith external support for Hadi’s Yemeni government, recognized by the international community. Saudi Arabia in fact he created, with the support of the United Arab Emirates, a coalition against the Houthis to restore the Hadi government which led to a devastating war, with aerial bombings and thousands of civilian deaths. Even before the war, Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the world: the UN estimates that 79% dhe population lives below the threshold of poverty. Alone in 2022 a deal has been announced for a truce in Yemen and the political thaw between Iran and Saudi Arabia, mediated by China, has meant that from September 2023 to now the cease-fire.