After almost a decade of war in Yemen, the Houthi rebels have found in the confrontation with the United States in the Red Sea a source of legitimacy and the unconditional support of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who, at the same time, see their ties fading. options to achieve peace in the country.
The insurgents, who have controlled much of the west of the country since 2014, “welcomed” an open confrontation with the United States, which in the last three days has bombed dozens of military positions in Yemen, causing at least five deaths in the ranks of the rebels.
Although Washington assures that it is not seeking war but that it will respond firmly to threats to shipping in the Red Sea, the Houthis have insisted that they will continue attacking commercial shipping to economically harm Israel and in support of the Palestinians in the region. Gaza Strip.
Backed by Iran, they are staunch defenders of the Palestinian cause, although the crisis in the Red Sea also serves their own propaganda interests to recruit more combatants and also to feel that they have weight in the regional arena.
“For them this is legitimacy, popularity and presence at a regional and international level. They have been able to promote themselves as regional or international actors that, at least, can disrupt international interests,” Farea al Muslimi, a Yemeni analyst at Chatham House, told EFE. .
“I think the Houthis will not retreat; in fact, they will go further. In a way, they expect and desire this, a direct confrontation with the United States or the West,” says the expert, who warns of the possibility that the insurgents will begin to attack “Western economic and oil infrastructure”, as well as US and UK military bases in the Middle East.
The rebels themselves have announced that the bombings against Yemen “will not go unpunished” and have promised to respond with more force, despite the fact that Washington and London assure that the military capabilities of the Houthis have been affected after the bombings.
Almost a decade of war in Yemen has already tested the resistance of the Houthis, who with the help of Iran have increased their arsenal despite air attacks by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which has intervened in the country since 2015. in favor of the internationally recognized Yemeni Government.
“That’s not going to end well for anyone. We are at a time when the Houthis feel that they can be maximalist, that they can play the zero-sum game, but they don’t care about the price,” says Al Muslimi.
Another burden on peace in Yemen
The Houthis and the Saudi-backed government reached an unprecedented truce in April 2022 that, although it expired a few months later, has largely held since and has managed to stop large-scale attacks.
Despite being a belligerent party, Saudi Arabia has become a mediator and has made a series of concessions to achieve a de-escalation, stop the Houthis’ cross-border attacks against its territory and lay the foundations to begin a peace process.
But the war in the Gaza Strip and its repercussions have changed everything: the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, warned on Saturday, calling for “safeguarding the progress of peace efforts” after the bombings. Americans and British.
“This will definitely ruin the peace process in Yemen,” says the expert, who recalls that the Red Sea crisis has already caused delays in possible negotiations on prisoner exchanges and to establish a roadmap to end the war.
Furthermore, the analyst points out that it could break the agreements with Saudi Arabia – which before the outbreak of the war in Gaza was in talks to normalize relations with Israel – and has been “the first line of defense” of the Jewish State by intercepting missiles in its airspace launched by the Houthis in the past.
The military escalation in the Red Sea has raised fears that a regional conflict is just around the corner, but it also keeps the inhabitants of Yemen in suspense, which after almost a decade of war has become the scene of the largest humanitarian catastrophe on the planet, according to the UN.