Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have raised threats against all shipping in areas within their reach while stepping up recruitment, according to reports in The Times.
Thousands in the war-torn country have been hired since October 7, as the Yemeni militia steps up both naval and aerial attacks against Israel, the US and their allies.
Just last month, the Houthis’ leader said 10,000 more troops had been recruited amid the dire poverty in the Middle East’s poorest nation, and thousands more, including child soldiers, are now among those taken in the second round of training in the proxy war being waged against Israel, The Times reports.
Yemen is notorious for its taking on child soldiers, and the latest war, which is being waged in support of Gaza’s Hamas militia, is the latest campaign which has seen the Houthis come back to the fore.
Houthis’ Information Minister Dhaif Allah (Dhaifullah) Al-Shami told Qatari newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed Monday that any country that joins the US-led international maritime coalition – now comprising at least 20 nations – to protect Red Sea trade will become a target from the Yemeni rebels.
Hours after Washington launched the multinational force, Houthis threatened to ‘sink’ US warships. The new maritime coalition includes Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Netherlands, Seychelles and Bahrain. It was formed in response to Houthi attacks on commercial vessels passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea, transiting between Asia and Europe through the Suez Canal. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have chosen not to join the multinational naval alliance.
“Any alliance of this kind is essentially a pact to protect Israeli ships, supporting Israel and encouraging it to continue its crimes in Gaza,” al-Shami said. “Even if the entire world united forces to deter us, it would not work. As the coalition’s circle widens, so will our targets.”
The threats echo similar warnings by the Iran-funded militia group, saying they target all ships heading to Israel, regardless of their nationality. The Houthis have attacked and seized several Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea and its Bab al-Mandab strait, a sea lane through which most of the world’s oil is shipped, and fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel.
Also on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani claimed that Iran is an integral part of ensuring security in international waters, playing a crucial role in maritime security and international trade. “The US government is not in a position to level accusations against Iran in this regard,” he said.
On Friday, the White House said that Iran was “deeply involved” in Yemen’s Houthis’ operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea and its intelligence was critical to facilitate the attacks. While the US has avoided pointing direct blame at Iran for regional tensions, instead focusing on its proxies, the Pentagon announced that the kamikaze drone that struck an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean early Saturday morning was launched directly from Iran.
Referring to the Indian Ocean attack, Kanaani said that “US accusations are endless,” trying to project that the Islamic Republic is not involved in the attacks.
Palestinian Islamist militia Hamas, another Iran-backed group, declared war on Israel on October 7 in a surprise attack that they codenamed Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, killing over 1,200, mostly civilians and taking about 250 hostages. In retaliation, Israel has been pounding the enclave to uproot Hamas, which has made the war exceedingly bloody, hiding deep among the civilian population and underneath the coastal sliver’s non-military facilities.
The Houthis are one of several Iran-backed militant groups in the Middle East. They have been effectively in a state of war with Saudi Arabia since 2015 and have claimed support for Palestinians since the Hamas terror attack on Israel on October 7. The Houthis have waded into the Israel-Hamas conflict – which has spread around the region – attacking vessels in vital shipping lanes and firing drones and missiles at Israel more than 1,000 miles from their seat of power in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.
Iran supports Hamas but says it did not play any role in the Islamist militants’ terror attack that triggered the current crisis. Tehran also denies involvement in the recent attacks on vessels in the Red Sea. Iran also backs Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that has deep ties with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction in Gaza that is also backed by Iran. Since October 7, it has also been the most active in its attacks on Israel’s northern border since the second Lebanon war.
Iran’s current war strategy is employing proxy forces to target Israel, Israeli assets, and US military installations in the region. Since the October 7 attack, Tehran has been warning of the spillover of the conflict in case of a regional escalation, but at the same time cheers attacks against Israel and the United States.