Coalition of the Starvers
The United States and the United Kingdom have struck scores of targets inside Yemeni territory held by the Houthi-led government in an attempt to halt its blockade in the Red Sea.
Most news broadcasts around the world on the night of December 31 were dedicated to what else, but New Years Eve. From Boston to Buenos Aires, anchors joked and partied on screen, following long-held traditions of celebrating the end of the always accursed previous year, and wishing, in increasingly pained fashion, that the next year will perhaps be better. Rinse, repeat. In Sana’a, the broadcast that went out on al-Masirah, the channel owned by the Houthi movement that has controlled the Yemeni capital for almost a decade, was of a much different mood.
“The sea erupted into war,” al-Masirah’s anchor began, “America committed the crime of murder. It thinks it will get away with what it did, but it will not.”
Earlier that day, 10 personnel of the Yemeni Navy had been killed in a single engagement. It was the first deadly battle between the Houthi-led government’s naval forces and the US-led naval coalition, Operation Prosperity Guardian, that had been formed at the beginning of December to stop them.
According to the US Central Command, the Yemeni Marines involved had attempted to board the cargo ship known as the Maersk Hangzhou. After broadcasting a distress call, American combat helicopters arrived and told the Yemeni Marines to abandon their attack on the ship. The Marines, who had come in small boats, fired on the helicopters with small arms fire, which was then returned by fire from the helicopters, which sank 3 of the 4 boats sent to try and board the vessel.
According to the faction of the Yemeni Armed Forces aligned with the Houthi-led administration, the strike against the Hangzhou and the killing of the 10 Yemeni Marines were implied to be separate incidents, where the Yemeni naval men were killed during their “regular official duties” in enforcing their blockade in the Red Sea.
Without images or video released by either Yemen or the United States, verifying which narrative is accurate is impossible. But the end result was the same: 10 Yemeni fighters were dead, and America had killed them.
From here, the escalatory ladder would quickly extend upward. The Houthi movement would continue its strikes, and the United States would continue attempting to counter them and protect ships transiting through the Red Sea. After ultimatums, assertions of resilience, and a multifaceted attack with explosive drones and ballistic missiles against an American naval vessel in retaliation for the killing of the Marines, the coalition constructed to counter the Houthis felt the hourglass on holding back from undertaking a much more significant action had run out.
In the early morning hours of January 12, at approximately 2:30 AM local time, Yemenis all around Houthi-controlled northern Yemen awoke to the sounds of explosions. From planes overhead and from ships in the sea, the militaries of the US and UK fired more than 150 bombs and missiles in what the Yemeni Armed Forces says was 73 different raids, raids in which the US says over 60 Houthi-linked targets were destroyed.
Munitions were launched at airports in Hodeidah, Ta’iz, and Abs. The ad-Dailami Air Base of the Yemeni Air Force was hit, which shares its runway with Sana’a International, Yemen’s primary international airport, and up until a few months ago, the only airport offering commercial flights from Yemeni territory controlled by the Houthi-led government. A port was struck, also in Hodeidah, as well as one in al-Faza. Yemeni Army camps like the 8th Presidential Guard and the 9th Mechanized Brigade. 8 Yemeni governorates held targets for the US and the UK, anything that could be connected to the firing of ballistic missiles, the launching of kamikaze drones, and the boarding of cargo ships.
Many in the United States, operating several hours behind Yemen, entered their evenings hearing that in addition to the war of annihilation ongoing in Gaza, that the American military had now jumped headfirst into bombing Yemen, a conflict once thought thoroughly in the past, so clearly wrong-headed to get involved with after the disaster of the Saudi-led intervention that consumed the 2010s and wrought untold famine and destruction for little if any gain for the Gulf Arab powers.
The question was now likely rocketing across many people’s minds as the news came in, evidenced by the primers looking to introduce readers to the group in places like Time Magazine, CNN, BBC, the New York Times, and everything in between. Many of these primers barely elaborated on the Red Sea blockade’s cause, most of the time only referencing a sense of solidarity with Gaza and Hamas, but never going further to articulate actual goals.
One could be forgiven from reading many pieces about the Yemeni actions in the Red Sea and believe there is no real feasible end point to these actions. Frustration tends to erupt when reading or watching coverage of the intervention from Yemen, either from knowing the context and not understanding why reporters aren’t engaging with it, or from not knowing the context and not understanding why details about the cause of this seems so thinly mentioned.
It is not a matter requiring deep and careful analysis in order to determine what exactly the Houthi movement wants in the Red Sea. They’ve articulated it clearly, blatantly, over and over again, in both Arabic and in English, for months.
The Houthi movement, officially known as Ansarallah, has been attempting to seize, attack, and otherwise disrupt the movement of Israeli-linked ships and the operations of Israel’s ports since mid-November of last year. Yemeni forces had been firing drones and ballistic missiles at the Israeli Red Sea port city of Eilat since the end of October, but the Israel Defense Forces, while still needing to prepare defenses and counter such attacks from the south, were not nearly as significantly affected by the attacks as they had been affected by Hezbollah’s attacks in the north. After almost two weeks with little change, Ansarallah shifted strategies.
The movement’s leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, announced first the targeting of all ships linked to Israel, which led to the seizure of the Galaxy Leader (whose holding company is co-owned by an Israeli businessman), and then expanded that directive to the targeting of all ships heading to Israeli ports shortly thereafter.
The aim of the blockade in the Red Sea is simple: pressure Israel into agreeing to a ceasefire, and lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, which is quickly being beset by one of the worst famines on the planet. Mohammad al-Bukhaiti, one of Ansarallah’s primary spokespeople, has said it even more bluntly:
“Our request is clear: stop the genocide in Gaza and lift the blockade. If the blockade is completely lifted, we will stop targeting ships heading to the [Israeli] entity.”