Houthi militants and Red Sea Attack

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The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (CENTCOM) reported on Sunday (24th Dec 2023) that a one-way attack drone struck the MV Sai Baba, a crude oil tanker flying the flag of Gabon and sailing towards India, in the Southern Red Sea. The ship is owned and operated by an Indian company, and its crew is entirely Indian.

“U.S. Naval Forces Central Command received reports from two ships in the Southern Red Sea that they were under attack at approximately 8 p.m. (Sanaa (Yemen) time),”

According to defence sources,

  • the ship was certified by the Indian Register of Shipping.
  • the ship is sailing towards India and all of the crew are safe.

The Indian Coast Guard ship Vikram was escorting MV Chem Pluto on Sunday as it made its way to Mumbai on Monday. On Saturday, the ship was struck by a suspected drone just outside the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

On Sunday, 24, Dec 2023

With the two strikes on Sunday,

  • Houthi militants have now attacked commercial ships fifteen times since October 17.
    • Following the attack on Sai Baba, the chemical and oil tanker MV BLAAMANEN, operated by Norwegians, reported a near-miss with a Houthi one-way attack drone
    • no injuries or damage were reported.
  • Two ballistic missiles designed to destroy ships were fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea,
    • However, no ships were reported to have been hit by the missiles.

New approach to security

U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin announced on December 18 the launch of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an “important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the combined maritime forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea,” in response to an increase in missile and drone attacks coming from Houthi-held areas of Yemen that threaten the unhindered flow of commerce in the Red Sea.

Houthi movement in Yemen

The Houthi movement in Yemen is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, so understanding its origins, goals, and current role in the country’s war requires diving into various aspects.

Origins and Ideology

Zaydi Revivalism

  • Founded in the late 1990s, the movement arose from within the Zaydi sect of Islam, a minority group in Yemen representing roughly 25% of the population.
  • It seeks to revive Zaydi traditions and restore Zaydi political influence, which waned with the overthrow of the Zaydi imamate in 1962.
Social Justice and Anti-Corruption
  • The movement also espouses social justice and criticizes corruption within the Yemeni government, appealing to marginalized groups facing poverty and discrimination.
Rise to Power and the Civil War

Armed Rebellion:

  • Starting in 2004, the Houthis engaged in intermittent armed conflicts with successive Yemeni governments, accusing them of neglecting Zaydi communities and favouring Sunni groups.

2011 Uprising and Power Vacuum:

  • The movement gained momentum during the 2011 Yemeni Revolution, aligning with other opposition groups to oust then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
  • However, the power vacuum that followed led to further conflict with rival factions.

Seizing Control of Sanaa:

  • In 2014, the Houthis launched a major offensive, capturing the capital Sanaa and expanding their control across northern and western Yemen.
  • This triggered intervention from a Saudi-led coalition backing the internationally recognized government, escalating the conflict into a full-blown civil war.

Current Situation and Challenges:

Territorial Control:

  • Though controlling a significant portion of Yemen, the Houthis face military stalemates in other areas like Marib and the Red Sea coast. 
  • The war has caused a devastating humanitarian crisis, displacing millions, and inflicting casualties on both sides.

International Relations:

  • The Houthis are designated as a terrorist organization by some countries, including the United States, due to their attacks on Saudi Arabia and international shipping.
  • This hinders diplomatic efforts and access to humanitarian aid.

Peace Negotiations:

  • Ongoing attempts to broker a ceasefire and a political solution are complicated by regional tensions, shifting alliances, and internal divisions within the Houthi movement itself.

Further Considerations

Internal Dynamics:

  • The Houthi movement is not monolithic, with varying factions and leadership struggles.
  • Their relationship with other Yemeni groups, including Sunni communities, remains intricate and evolving.

Impact on Regional Stability:

  • The Yemeni conflict has destabilized the wider region, fuelling tensions with Saudi Arabia and impacting international trade through strategic waterways like the Red Sea.


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