Report to Congress on Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea

January 15, 2024 9:28 AM

The following is the Jan. 12, 2024, Congressional Research Service Insight report, Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea: Issues for Congress.

From the report

Since the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks and Israel’s ongoing military response in Gaza, Iran-supported militias have increased attacks in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the Red Sea. The Houthis, an Iran-backed force in Yemen, have repeatedly targeted Israeli territory as well as international commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandeb Strait, a key maritime choke point. In response, the U.S. Navy and other navies have intercepted Houthi-launched projectiles, formed a coalition to patrol the Red Sea, and issued warnings to the Houthis to halt attacks. Nevertheless, these attacks have persisted, diverting traffic from the Red Sea and driving up shipping costs.
On January 11, 2024, the United States, United Kingdom, and others conducted joint strikes on 60 Houthi targets across 16 different locations in Yemen. Prior to these strikes, some lawmakers had criticized the Biden Administration’s response and called for greater pressure on the Houthis. President Joe Biden entered office in 2021 vowing to pursue de-escalation of Yemen’s civil war. More recently, U.S. officials have indicated reluctance to reinflame the war in Yemen amid U.N.-brokered talks. U.S. officials continue to state their goal of keeping the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza from escalating into a broader regional war.

The Houthis: Background and Iranian Support

The Houthi movement (formally known as Ansar Allah or Partisans of God), a predominantly Zaydi Shia revivalist political and insurgent movement, was formed in northern Yemen in 2004 under the leadership of members of the Houthi family. Ideologically, the group has espoused anti-American and anti-Zionist beliefs. From 2004 to 2014, the Houthi movement consolidated power in northern Yemen, combating Saudi Arabia to its north and the former Yemeni central government to its south. In 2014, after a national dialogue failed to address long-standing Houthi grievances, the group launched a military campaign, culminating in the overthrow of the internationally recognized government, which then sought military intervention from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Yemen’s ensuing armed conflict, which has been in stasis since 2022, remains unresolved and has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and exacerbated humanitarian conditions in the Middle East’s poorest country.

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