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Smart Take | US and UK Strike Houthi Rebels in Yemen

January 12, 20242:09

The US and UK launched strikes against multiple Houthi targets in Yemen in response to more than two months of Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea. Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow Robin Wright provides insights into the Houthi movement, Iran’s role, and why the strikes were launched in spite of recent diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State Blinken to de-escalate tensions in the region.

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  • On Tuesday, January 9th, the latest attack on shipping in the Red Sea involved 20 drones and missiles. And this was the turning point that that broke the camel's back, as they say, and forced the US to try to signal in some military way that the warning, the diplomatic warning that had been issued by several nations, was going to be enforced.

    The Houthis have long sought to counter American and Israeli influence in the region. They've condemned the American presence. They are opposed to Israel's existence. They originally said they were targeting shipping because of the war between Israel and Hamas.

    The Houthis are part of the so-called axis of resistance organized by Iran. That includes Hamas, Hezbollah and some of the militias in Iraq

    Iran has created a number of allies in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen. There are nascent cells in other parts of the region. And in many ways, those proxies, those surrogates, those allies are the greater front line danger to the United States and its allies, including Israel.

    There are a lot of different players to what we’re seeing happen today But the real danger is that this what we're seeing play out in January 2024 brings together a lot of different militias, armies, a lot of different flashpoints, political issues together into one big ball.

    And that's what the United States has tried through diplomacy to prevent.


Robin Wright image

Robin Wright

USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow;
Author and columnist for The New Yorker
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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more