January 24, 2022
Yemen has become an Iranian proxy war against Israel
On Jan. 17, strikes launched by Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen killed three people in Abu Dhabi, prompting Emirati- and Saudi-led military escalations against the group that have caused the deaths of dozens of Yemeni civilians over the past week. The Houthis have warned of more attacks to come and launched another attack on Abu Dhabi early on Jan. 24.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014. Although it has ground on for the better part of a decade, peace seems no closer today than it did eight years ago. That September, the Houthi rebels seized control of Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, provoking a Saudi-led military intervention in March 2015 to restore the internationally recognized Yemeni government. In 2019, the United Arab Emirates, part of the Saudi alliance, drew down its commitments in Yemen as progress stagnated and criticism of the civilian toll from coalition activities sharpened. After taking office last year, U.S. President Joe Biden called the war a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe” and ramped up diplomacy to end it. Yet fighting continues, and the humanitarian situation remains dire as funding shortages force cuts in emergency assistance and civilians navigate the threats of landmines and airstrikes.
If confirmed, the successful Jan. 17 Houthi strikes show an expanding range of the group’s capabilities. The implications for the Houthis’ ability to act on their threat of further retaliation are evident for the Gulf nations directly involved in military operations in Yemen. But by transferring long-range capabilities to the Houthis, Iran has also established Houthi-controlled Yemen as a staging ground to pressure Israel.