Houthi Attack on US Adds to Yemen Conflict

On Saturday October 8th an airstrike led by Saudi Arabia targeted a funeral being held in Houthi rebel occupied Sana’a, Yemen. The attack killed 140 and leaving more than 600 wounded.

The funeral was for Sheikh Ali al-Rawishan, the father of Galal al-Rawishan who is a Houthi ally. Galal al-Rawishan serves as the interior minister for the Houthi rebel government. Rawishan is a member of the Khawlan tribe, one of many tribes that surround Sana’a.

The coalition aimed to take out Houthi leaders and allies. Several senior military commanders and soldiers attended the funeral, and several were killed in the airstrikes. The mayor of Sana’a, Abdulqader Hilal, was also killed. Hilal was neutral in the war between the Yemen government and the Houthis and who sought to be a lead negotiator between the two sides.

Conflict in Yemen erupted in 2014 when the Shia Houthis, took over Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government fled south to Aden. The Houthis are allied with the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh and backed by Iran. President Hadi is backed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, most notably the United Arab Emirates. Both sides are fighting for control of Yemen.

This attack was the deadliest attack by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis since March 2015, when they started a campaign of airstrikes.

The United States has advised the Saudi Arabia-led coalition not to continue the air campaign and stressed that civilian casualties need to end. During the last 18 months several hospitals, schools and homes have been destroyed causing a public relations problem for the Saudi-coalition.

The US has historically backed Saudi Arabia, and has done so publicly in the Yemeni campaign. However the US has also been supplying air support to Iranian-linked Shia militias fighting the Islamic State in Iraq. The US preoccupation with first achieving, and then supporting the Iran Nuclear Deal, even in the wake of Iranian provocation, has confused and frustrated traditional regional allies.

One such provocation was the firing of two anti-ship missiles from Houthi positions targeting US warships in the Red Sea. Both appeared to have splashed harmlessly after U.S. Ships deployed countermeasures.

On October 13th 4 am local time, the US military launched missiles strikes in Houthi-occupied Yemen, striking 3 coastal radar sites. This is the first direct US attack against the Houthis in the Yemen conflict.

The attacks have since continued. Sunday, October 16th a missile was again fired at the USS Mason and one on the USS Ponce. The warships were not hit.

Iran responded by deploying two vessels to the Red Sea, calling it an anti-piracy action to protect critical trade routes.

Iran plays an important but not visible role in these attacks. The Iranians back the Houthis because they are Shiite and putting pressure on the Saudi government. If the Houthi forces successfully secured Yemen, they would be able to target shipping in the Red Sea, an important sea channel for Saudi oil. The Houthi missile attacks, while unsuccessful against modern U.S. warship, reflect the danger of permitting an Iranian-backed force controlling these strategic areas.

Since the Yemen war broke out, the United Nations has stated that more than 10,000 have been killed and 4,00 have been civilians.  The war has left 3 million people displaced causing a countrywide famine.  That number will most likely continue to increase as the Yemeni civil war resumes. Iran will not abandon it’s proxies in Yemen because they continue to seek to challenge Saudi Arabia and the gulf alliance in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia cannot end it’s campaign without successfully ending the Houthi ability to successfully target it’s assets and trade routes, a threat which clearly still exists.