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US must respond to threat from Iran-backed Houthis

Dec 07, 2023

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Last month, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force told the head of Hamas’ military wing that Iran will do “whatever it takes” to support them in its war with Israel. Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen intensified attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, prompting U.S. warships to shoot down their drones in self-defense.

Straight Arrow News contributor Katherine Zimmerman argues that military strikes by Iran and its proxies are having a clear effect on the conflict in the Middle East. She asserts that the United States must take more decisive measures to contain Iran’s influence.

The Houthis’ current threat to commercial shipping in the Red Sea, the ongoing attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria, and the general escalation against Israel and the United States by “axis of resistance” members undermine regional security and stability.

This escalation aims to pressure Israel into ending its ground operations in Gaza, as well as to drive the United States out of the region. The American response to it has been largely muted for fear of expanding the Israel-Hamas war.


U.S. military actions have been limited to retaliatory strikes, and to date, no action has been taken against the Houthis. These strikes will not deter further attacks. Iran’s investments in its proxies to contest the American regional presence have clearly paid off, even as Iran denies any role in these attacks.

The United States should hold the groups attacking U.S. forces and interests in the region accountable, but more so, it needs to redevelop its approach to the region to meet this new Iranian challenge.

A US Navy destroyer came to the rescue of three commercial ships in the Red Sea and ended up shooting down multiple drones headed its direction launched by the Houthis in Yemen. It wasn’t the first time the USS Carney had to shoot down a drone heading toward the warship and probably won’t be the last arounds limited but strategic investment in the Houthis is paying off. Six weeks earlier, the destroyer shot down multiple ballistic missiles and drones fired from Yemen toward Israel. That attack surprised many Middle East analysts who had chalked Houthi threats to escalate. Should Israel invade Gaza as bluster. The ongoing escalation repeated attempts to strike Israel and now actively targeting commercial ships with Israeli ties. And the weak American and Israeli response highlights how ill prepared they are to respond to the threats from Iran regional proxies. Iran has cultivated a loose alliances that it dubs the Axis of Resistance, primarily through its cuts force, a clandestine wing of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC

Axis of Resistance members include Lebanese Hezbollah, some of the Iraqi Shia militia groups, Hamas, and the Houthis, among others. They all adhere to revisionist ideologies and seek to change the balance of power in the Middle East. They want the United States out of the region and are opposed to Israel. The Quds forces helps to train and are members of the Axis of Resistance, including the Houthis as a means of expanding Iran’s regional influence. While Iran’s early outreach to the Houthis was aimed more at developing a presence on Saudi Arabia southern border, and potentially supporting its supply routes to Hamas and Gaza. That shifted when civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015. The Quds Force seize the opportunity and sent experienced operatives to work with the Houthis and transfer increasingly longer range and more sophisticated weapons, upgrading the Houthis limited arsenal.

Iranian one way kamikaze drones and long range missiles gave the Houthi isn’t an asymmetrical edge in their conflict with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The weapons transfers created concerns over the Houthi threat to America’s Gulf partners, and of course to the oil supply. But the Iranians also saw the war in Yemen as a chance to have the Houthis test new weapons on an active battlefield and develop and refine tactics, techniques and procedures. The Russian military’s use of Iranian drones in Ukraine almost certainly benefited from the Houthis drone attacks against Saudi Arabia.

The Quds Force also desired to establish Yemen as a potential staging ground for attacks against Israel or to contest the Red Sea. Something many American policymakers missed in their understanding of Iran arming of the Houthis. Essentially, arounds non nuclear proliferation in the region and its provision of long range weapons to the Houthis expanded Iran’s ability to leverage its Axis of Resistance to create a southern threat vector, not just against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, but also against Israel and US military forces in the area.

The Houthis current threat to commercial shipping and the Red Sea, the ongoing attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria, and the general escalation against Israel in the United States by acts as a resistance members undermine regional security and stability. This escalation aims to pressure Israel into ending its ground operations in Gaza, as well as to drive the United States out of the region. The American response to it has been largely muted for fear of expanding the Israel Hamas war. US military actions have been limited to retaliatory strikes, and to date, no action has been taken against the Houthis. These strikes will not deter further attacks, or Ron’s investments in its proxies to contest the American regional presence has clearly paid off. Even as Iran denies any role in these attacks. The United States should hold the group’s attacking us forces and interests in the region accountable, but more so it needs to redevelop its approach to the region to meet this new Iranian challenge.

 

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