Strait to the point: Houthi rebels control international shipping

By Laurence Butt

The Middle East is an extensive and challenging region with harsh environments, unforgiving terrain, and ever-shifting alliances and borders, making it a difficult place to thrive. Iran stands out as a country that, through violence and determination, has managed to maintain a prominent position in the Middle East. Iran’s presence is evident in Yemen, where it has brokered deals with the Houthi rebels. 

The Houthis, a Shia Islamist political and military organization that originated in Yemen during the 1990s, toppled the government in 2014 and took over the north-western region of the country, adjacent to the Bab el Mandeb strait. Recognizing the Houthis as a significant political and strategic ally due to their proximity to the strait, Iran began supplying them with advanced weapon systems, such as ballistic and anti-ship missiles. A conflict in Israel, located 1,300 miles to Yemen’s north, has triggered a “blockade” of the international waterway where the Houthis could now wield their influence to jeopardize passage through the straits, thereby gaining substantial strategic leverage.

The US and its allies recently initiated an assertive bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels, focusing on radar and missile systems, bunkers, and storage facilities. Consequently, the Houthi missile launches have been temporarily halted.

To increase the flow of aid into the war torn nation, the Biden administration removed the Houthis from the foreign terrorist organization list. “However, since the Houthis started branching out beyond the civil war in Yemen (or attacking locations in Saudi Arabia) such as US and allied-flagged ships in the Red Sea, or against Israel, the Biden administration re-instituted the terror group designation” said Duerr.

Jenista highlighted the significant efforts of America’s allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Sunni nations, in maintaining a ceasefire between north and south Yemen.

Duerr pointed out that the Houthis’ high level of aggression is made possible by the intricate web of allies Iran has established in the Middle East. Retaliating against one faction, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, could potentially trigger a descent into war in the region.

“With their ominous tagline, ‘God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam,’ the Houthis have escalated hostilities by launching sophisticated attacks on Israel with support from Iran” Duerr said. “The complex interplay of conflicts, including the Hamas invasion of Israel, Hezbollah’s actions in northern Israel, and Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq, raises genuine concerns about a broader Middle East conflict.”

Dr. Jenista further iterated this point.

“Following the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel, the Houthis declared their support for Hamas and started launching missiles and drones to attack Israel or Israeli shipping.” Jenista said. “When the US Navy started shooting down missiles headed toward our ally Israel, the Houthis said they’d attack US, then UK ships.” 

As one of the most heavily trafficked maritime locations globally, activity surrounding the Red Sea holds significant implications for the global economy.

“These attacks end up affecting all of the maritime shipping through this area – via higher insurance costs or forcing vessels to sail around Africa to avoid the conflict zone – all of which causes delays and adds costs to international commerce” Jenista said..  “Eventually the international community will have to put enough pressure on Iran (which encourages the Houthis and provides all the missiles and drones) to quiet the situation.”

According to Duerr, since the Israeli invasion of Gaza, the ripples of conflict have persistently unfolded and spread outward.

 “Consider all of the moving pieces,” Duerr said “The Hamas invasion of Israel, and subsequent war, Houthis striking Israel and US-vessels in the Red Sea, Hezbollah firing rockets and missiles into northern Israel, Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq attacking US bases, Iran and Pakistan firing missiles at insurgent groups in their respective territories, existing civil wars in Sudan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.” 

Regrettably, Jenista does not envision viable solutions for achieving peace and stability in the near future.

“[It] is tragic because the years of fighting have created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters there – poverty, starvation and disease are rampant.” Jenista said.

Both emphasized that praying for the innocent victims of the war, as well as for the service members serving in the warzone, is among the highest priorities a Christian can undertake in a situation like this.

“As Christians, we should pay attention to lesser-known conflicts even if others turn away.” Duerr said. “According to the World Watch List, Yemen is ranked #5 as the country with the highest levels of persecution of Christians. We can respond in prayer, and also to lobby our government to take a tougher line against the Houthis.” “Prayer for the innocent victims of these wars and the safety of sailors in this hot zone would always be appropriate.” said Jenista.

The conflict with the Houthi rebels affect a far range of people and countries, most of whom depend on global trade. While recent actions by the US and its allies aim to address immediate threats, the root causes deeply embedded in historical rivalries and external influences make lasting peace elusive. The call for Christians is clear—to remain informed, pray for victims, and advocate for compassionate solutions, recognizing Yemen’s status as a country with high levels of Christian persecution. Ultimately, achieving lasting peace in the Middle East requires a collective, international effort that surpasses geopolitical interests and prioritizes the well-being of those affected by the conflicts.

Laurence Butt is a junior IT Management major and an Off Campus Reporter for Cedars. When he’s not writing articles, he enjoys hanging out with friends, spending time outdoors, and trying to be good at video games.

Photo from Unsplash

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