In the Middle East, the Houthis of Yemen, the world’s poorest nation, have blockaded the Red Sea to protest Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip and challenged US power in the region.
Seemingly unrelated events signal an irrevocable restructuring of the post-World War II order. In the Middle East, the Houthis of Yemen, the world’s poorest nation, have blockaded the Red Sea to protest Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip and challenged US power in the region. Iraq has asked American troops to leave its territory. Syria is embedded with Russia and Iran. France has been expelled from West Africa. US-backed leaders in Ukraine and Argentina are in distress. Globalist Donald Tusk is in trouble in Poland. Elected representatives in several European countries are vocal against the European Parliament and keen to reassert national interests.
South Africa stunned the world with its cogent elucidation of Israel’s activities in Gaza at the International Court of Justice on Jan 11, 2024. Pretoria’s charge of genocide against Israel was supported by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the League of Arab States, and an impressive 60 nations of the Global South. The fact that some Gulf States remain formally aligned with Washington will not affect the subterranean shifting of political templates; some have joined the BRICS grouping and others are moving in that direction.
The present conflict broke out early on January 12, 2024 morning when the United States and Britain attacked Houthi radar and air defence systems after the group defied an ultimatum to halt attacks on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea. Supporters claimed Sanaa had fulfilled its obligation under Art. 1 of the Genocide Convention to prevent and punish Israel for its genocide in Gaza, and pointed out that all non-Israeli ships are freely crossing the Red Sea.
Washington claimed the support of Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands. However, Italy, France and Spain did not join the military action or sign a statement justifying the attacks, thus signalling a clear split in the Western bloc.
The Houthis warned of retaliation against US bases in the region, a threat echoed by Iraqi resistance forces. Mohammed Ali al-Houthi of Yemen’s Supreme Political Council said, “We did not attack American shores, and we did not move against American cities. You are the Nazis, and your strikes on our country are acts of terrorism…” Muhammad Al-Buhaiti added, “Previously, we focused only on maritime shipping associated with the Zionist entity. Today, American and British ships will no longer dare to cross the Red Sea.”
Russia condemned the “irresponsible adventure”. At an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, Vasiliy Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, said the US-UK action was an “armed aggression by a group of countries against another state; the war in the Middle East is spreading to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.” Calling the strikes a breach of Article 2 of the UN Charter, Nebenzya said they have nothing to do with the exercise of the right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter and were not sanctioned by the Security Council.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour regretted, “One would have hoped that saving Palestinian children’s lives would be met with the same urgency to act and to provide protection granted to shipping lanes.” Barbara Woodward, Britain’s permanent representative to the UN, said, “Gazans should not be subject to forcible displacement or relocation from Gaza… the UK is alarmed by record levels of extremist settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and its devastating impact.”
Previously, on January 10, Moscow and Beijing abstained from a Security Council resolution calling on Houthis to immediately cease attacks on shipping. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the resolution did not “provide any right to carry out strikes,” hence they are illegitimate in international law.
Riyadh urged restraint and “avoiding escalation”. Turkish President Erdoğan said, “What is happening is the use of unbalanced force, and Israel is practising this in Gaza, and we will see how Iran will defend itself… Turkey handed over documents (to the ICJ) condemning Israel, and the oppressed have never lost…”
US President Joe Biden later confirmed that US and UK military forces hit key targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to protect the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. Yemeni attacks have so far forced more than 2,000 ships to take a detour via the Cape of Good Hope, thereby disrupting shipping timelines and escalating costs to end users. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the strikes “necessary and proportionate” as the Houthis continued to disregard warnings from the international community.
A confrontation with Iran seems inevitable. Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned Washington that its direct involvement in the war is its biggest mistake. Yemen is part of the Axis of Resistance, hence any attack on Yemen will have consequences. It is well-known that Tehran provided the Houthis with the intelligence, information and capabilities to conduct the attacks on the Red Sea shipping.
Brigadier General Abdul Salam Jahaf, member of Yemen’s Defense and Security Committee, said aggression from the US, Britain and Zionists (Israel) would not distract Yemen from defending Gaza. “We will confront America, make it kneel, burn its warships, all its bases, and anyone who cooperates with it. No matter what it costs us, we will not leave Gaza… To our people, our brothers, our sons, and our fathers in Gaza, we are with you… The world must prepare to hear of America’s defeat…”
After Israel’s ferocious response to the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, targeting hospitals and civilian buildings and blocking UN humanitarian aid, the Houthis began to attack US bases in Iraq and Syria and commercial vessels crossing the Red Sea and the strait of Bab el-Mandeb. They demanded that Israel end its aggression in the Gaza Strip and allow humanitarian assistance to reach the civilians inside.
There was outrage in Washington and London over the unilateral decision by President Biden and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to bomb Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa, besides Hodeidah (only port controlled by Houthis), and other cities. Analysts noted that as the US and UK were not targeted by Yemen, the action violated international law.
US Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) said that under Article I of the Constitution, “the President needs to come to Congress before launching a strike against the Houthis in Yemen and involving us in another Middle East conflict.” Calling the strikes unconstitutional, Khanna said that for over a month, Biden consulted an international coalition to plan the attack, but never came to Congress to seek authorization for the military action.
Representative Val Hoyle (D-Oregon) said, “The Constitution is clear: Congress has the sole authority to authorize military involvement in overseas conflicts. Every President must first come to Congress and ask for military authorization, regardless of party.” Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) lamented, “The United States cannot risk getting entangled into another decades-long conflict without Congressional authorization. The White House must work with Congress before continuing these airstrikes in Yemen.”
Representative Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) concurred, “Only Congress has the power to declare war. I have to give credit to Rep Ro Khanna here for sticking to his principles, as very few are willing to make this statement while their party is in the White House.”
The Houthis warned Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE that if they opened their airspace to the US and UK “then you are officially at war with us.” All Gulf States, barring Oman, have permitted the use of their airspace. In an official statement, Yemen said, “We call on the Security Council to immediately release 2.3 million people from the Israeli-American siege, due to which Gaza has become the largest prison.”
A secret British spy base in Oman, used to stage American attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, could be a prime target as ordinary Omanis are critical of UK support for Israel. Exiled Omani journalist Mohammed al-Fazari said Omanis are “unequivocally aligned with the Palestinian cause” and their opposition to Britain’s presence in the country “would intensify if it were to be revealed that these military bases were supporting the occupying settler entity” of Israel.
In an unrelated development, Iran on Jan 11 recaptured its oil tanker, Suez Rajan, which had been seized by the US in April 2022 while transporting a million barrels of Iranian oil, on grounds that it violated US sanctions. The US renamed the ship St Nikolas and the latter was transporting 1145,000 barrels of oil to Turkey when Iran repossessed it near the Omani port of Sohar.
The end game of the US-UK action is unclear. If the aim is to stop the Houthis, a ceasefire in Gaza is a better option. During the six-day ceasefire in November 2023, there was only one attack in the Red Sea that could be attributed to the Houthis. A ceasefire would also facilitate the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. In fact, the growing conflict has drawn greater international attention to Gaza; ships are avoiding the Red Sea; and the American economy is sinking deeper into a quagmire.
- S.-Led Coalition Launches Strikes on Multiple Houthi Rebel Targets in Yemen, Jan 11, 2024. https://www.wsj.com/world/middle-east/middle-east-braces-for-u-s-strikes-on-houthis-aa943b13
- Who Are the Houthis and Why Did the US and UK Launch Strikes on Them?, VOA, Jan 12, 2024. https://www.voanews.com/a/who-are-the-houthis-and-why-did-the-us-and-uk-launch-strikes-on-them-/7437022.html
- Russia condemns US and UK for ‘irresponsible’ strikes on Yemen, Reuters, Jan 12, 2024. https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-requests-un-security-council-meeting-after-us-britain-strike-yemen-2024-01-12/
- Statement from President Joe Biden on Coalition Strikes in Houthi-Controlled Areas in Yemen, The White House, Jan 11, 2024. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/01/11/statement-from-president-joe-biden-on-coalition-strikes-in-houthi-controlled-areas-in-yemen/
- Biden, Sunak confirm airstrikes against Houthis in Yemen: ‘I will not hesitate to…’, Hindustan Times, Jan 12, 2024. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/biden-sunak-confirm-airstrikes-against-houthis-in-yemen-i-will-not-hesitate-to-101705024203253.html
- Strikes on Houthis could bring Biden closer to the regional war he sought to avoid, The Guardian, JaN 12, 2024. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/12/yemen-houthi-airstrikes-red-sea-crisis-joe-biden-us-uk-australia
- France says not part of US-led anti-Yemen coalition, focuses on own ships, Press TV, Jan 11, 2024. https://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2024/01/11/718042/France-Red-Sea
- Iran seizes oil tanker St Nikolas near Oman, BBC, 11 Jan 2024. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67948119
- Sirens heard at US Embassy in Iraq – report, Jerusalem Post, 12 Jan 2024. https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/article-781883
- UK Quietly Expands Secret Spy Base Near Iran, Declassified UK, 11 Jan 2024. https://www.declassifieduk.org/uk-quietly-expands-secret-gchq-spy-base-near-iran/
- South Africa takes US to international court for aiding Israel, Aljazeera, 12 Jan 2024. https://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking-news/South-Africa-takes-US-to-international-court-for-aiding-Israel/108-274949
- Europe split over US, UK strikes on Houthis in Yemen, Reuters, 13 Jan 2024. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/italy-declined-take-part-military-action-against-houthis-source-says-2024-01-12/#:~:text=ROME%2FPARIS%2FMADRID%2FABOARD,10%20countries%20justifying%20the%20attacks.
Chintan India Foundation blog, 16 January 2024