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EDITORIAL

Yemen’s Houthis Seek Greater Regional Influence

Houthi Missile Launches Underscore Alliance With Iran

The Houthis have dramatically intensified threats aimed at Israel and the United States since the outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel. These verbal assaults serve to cement the Houthis’ position within Iran’s network of proxies, acting as a deterrent against potential Israeli intervention in Yemen, and generating instability to overextend Israeli defenses.

The Houthis warned that Israeli involvement in the conflict would prompt missile strikes on sensitive sites in Israel. They also threatened to attack Israeli ships in the Red Sea and close the Bab al-Mandab strait. These warnings build on previous Houthi threats to strike desalination plants and airports in Israel. While lacking the weapons to execute many of these threats, the rhetoric highlights the Houthis’ intent.

Closing the Red Sea checkpoint or targeting Israeli shipping would disrupt international trade and deal an economic blow to Israel and its allies. The Houthis also fired missiles into the Red Sea in a show of force, underscoring their threat. Attacking Israel or its interests is a goal that aligns with Houthi ideology and would boost the group’s prestige in Iran’s network.

The crisis has propelled the Houthis onto the regional stage, but their role hinges on decisions by allies like Hezbollah. If Hezbollah intervenes militarily against Israel, the Houthis may follow suit to support their ally and gain prestige. However, the Houthis’ direct involvement also risks Israeli retaliation that could weaken the group. The Houthis stand at a pivotal moment, with events potentially reshaping regional dynamics.

The Houthis have dramatically escalated attacks against vessels in the Red Sea, employing Iranian-supplied missiles and drones. Their actions highlight the depth of the rebel group’s partnership with Tehran, which provides weapons, training and financial support.

In February 2021, the Houthis launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, targeting oil facilities and civilian infrastructure. The attacks underscored the threat posed by Iran’s proxy forces across the region. Riyadh intercepted many projectiles but others struck targets, highlighting vulnerabilities in Saudi air defenses.

The Houthis claimed the attacks were retaliation for the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen. However, the scale of the strikes suggests a broader effort by Iran to expand its influence and encircle Saudi Arabia with missile forces under its control. The Houthis have proven willing partners, allowing Tehran to strike its regional adversaries at limited cost or risk of direct retaliation.

In recent months, the Houthis have also targeted international shipping, firing missiles towards tankers transiting the Bab al-Mandab strait and holding crews hostage. Their actions threaten one of the world’s most strategic choke points for global trade and energy shipments.

The attacks on Saudi Arabia and shipping demonstrate the Houthis increasingly serve as a proxy to advance Iran’s interests, not just in Yemen but across the wider region. While the rebel group frames its actions as defending Yemen from foreign aggression, in reality, it has become a willing tool for Tehran to spread chaos and instability across the Middle East. The Houthis find themselves ensnared in a wider geopolitical struggle, their autonomy eroded as they are pulled into Iran’s orbit and its shadow wars across the region.

The deepening of ties between the Houthis and Iran poses significant challenges, as the rebel group gains more advanced weapons and a willingness to employ them at Iran’s behest. Their partnership threatens security and commerce across the Arabian Peninsula and Red Sea, dragging Yemen further into a destabilizing regional conflict with no end in sight.

The Houthis’ alliance with Hamas is characterised more by occasional

convergence of interests than close coordination. While direct logistical ties remain limited, symbolic shows of solidarity underscore their shared opposition to Israel and integration within Iran’s network.

The Houthis have dramatically escalated threats against Israel since the outbreak of violence, warning that Israeli involvement would prompt missiles targeting sensitive facilities. On May 12, the Houthis launched missiles towards the Red Sea, where Israeli ships were reportedly located. While the missiles fell short, the threat highlighted the Houthis’ willingness to expand the conflict.

The Houthis’ threats against Israel serve multiple purposes. They deter Israel from opening new fronts, create chaos to stretch Israeli defenses, and signal to Iran the Houthis’ reliability as a proxy. Control of strategic waterways like the Red Sea and Strait of Bab al-Mandab also remains a key Houthi war aim. Threatening Israel in this theater compounds pressure and advances their territorial ambitions.

The Houthis’ approach is characterized by extreme anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric, employing slogans like “death to Israel” to rally support. However, it also stokes regional tensions and threatens Yemen’s remaining Jewish community. While the Houthis frame their opposition around Israeli policies, their propaganda frequently slips into broader anti-Jewish tropes, highlighting the group’s ideological roots.

As the crisis unfolds, the role of Hezbollah and the level of direct Houthi involvement remain uncertain. Closer coordination with Hezbollah could transform the Houthis into a force capable of inflicting major harm on Israeli interests, reshaping regional dynamics. However, the Houthis’ isolation and limited capabilities may constrain their influence, highlighting more rhetorical than substantive gains. The crisis has thrust the Houthis into the spotlight but their future significance remains ambiguous.

The Houthis’ relationship with Hezbollah is complicated, united primarily by shared allegiance to Iran. Hezbollah provides limited training and weapons but the groups often act independently. However, Hezbollah’s decision to intervene in the Hamas-Israel conflict could compel Houthi participation. If Hezbollah openly backs Hamas, the Houthis would face pressure to demonstrate solidarity. Failure to act could undermine their position within the Iran-Hezbollah-Houthi axis, damaging prestige and influence.

Hezbollah’s entry into the war poses risks for the Houthis. They lack Hezbollah’s military capabilities and experience confronting Israel, risking heavy losses if they engage directly. However, refusing to act also carries risks, signalling weakness and damaging their credibility. The Houthis must walk a tightrope, taking actions that satisfy Iran and Hezbollah without provoking a strong Israeli response.

The safest option for the Houthis is propaganda and posturing. They can launch more threats against Israel, frame the war as part of a broader struggle against Zionism and imperialism, and highlight their role within the “resistance axis”. While lacking substance, propagandistic support allows the Houthis to demonstrate allegiance to allies while avoiding direct confrontation. However, actions like missile launches risk inadvertent escalation and may not satisfy Iran and Hezbollah if hostilities intensify.

The Houthis find themselves in a precarious position, their role contingent on the actions of allies and events outside their control. However, the Hamas-Israel crisis also presents an opportunity for the Houthis to build prestige and showcase their strategic significance to Iran. The Houthis’ next moves will signal their ambitions and highlight their willingness to take greater risks to become a more influential regional actor. Their decisions may shape the course of conflicts across the Middle East for years to come.

The Houthis have dramatically escalated verbal threats against Israel and the US, launching missiles towards the Red Sea. While direct involvement remains limited, this rhetoric signals their willingness to expand influence within Iran’s orbit. Threatening Israel serves to deter them from new fronts, creates chaos, and underscores the Houthi-Iran alliance.

The Houthis’ extreme anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric stokes tensions and threatens Yemen’s Jewish community. Their slogans like “death to Israel” rally support but further destabilize the region. Escalating threats against Israel highlight their strategic significance amid regional instability.

The Houthis’ relationship with Hamas is characterised by occasional convergence rather than close coordination, united by challenging Israeli and American interests. Logistical ties are limited, but symbolic gestures of solidarity underscore their integration within Iran’s network.

As the crisis unfolds, the Houthis’ role remains uncertain, contingent on allies and wider conflict dynamics. With Hezbollah’s potential intervention, the Houthis stand at a transformational moment that could reshape geopolitics for years. The unfolding crisis has thrust the Houthis into the spotlight, highlighting their growing strategic significance amid increasing instability across the Middle East. The Houthis now find themselves at the center of a maelstrom with implications for the region.

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