CounterPoint Brief: Retaliatory Strikes Launched Against Houthi Targets

January 12, 2024

Yesterday, a U.S.-led coalition launched retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebel targets in Yemen in an effort to weaken the group’s ability to conduct its campaign against commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Together with British forces and with support from Canada, Bahrain, the Netherlands, and Australia, U.S. armed forces targeted Houthi radar systems as well as drone and missile sites. The strikes come two days after the Houthis launched a complex missile attack against dozens of commercial ships transiting the Red Sea, and one week after the United States along with 13 other countries issued an ultimatum stating that the Houthis will face consequences should they continue to “threaten lives, the global economy, or the free flow of commerce.” 

Since November 19, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched at least 27 attacks on international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. The Houthis have claimed that these attacks are targeting ships headed to or otherwise linked to Israel, threatening that attacks will continue “until the [Israeli] aggression [on Gaza] has come to an end and the blockade has been lifted.” Fifteen percent of the world’s shipping travels through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Red Sea, and many of the world’s largest shipping companies have altered their routes in response to the Houthis’ attacks. 

Expert Analysis: CEP Senior Advisor Edmund Fitton-Brown, former UK Ambassador to Yemen 

"The Houthis have vowed to respond to yesterday's US-led enforcement action but it is not clear what military capabilities they have to escalate. They will probably continue to launch opportunistic attacks to prove that they are undeterred. But the Houthis are most likely to seek propaganda gains by claiming their own solidarity with Gaza and the West's readiness to endanger peace in Yemen for Israel's sake. 

Prime Minister Sunak has described last night’s strikes as ‘self-defense,’ aimed at degrading Houthi capability in the Red Sea. This is a step in the right direction but we must go further and re-establish genuine, credible deterrence.” 

On January 10, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding that the Houthis cease attacks on ships in the Red Sea, with Russia and China abstaining from the vote. Resolution 2722 also called on the Houthis to release the Galaxy Leader, the Japanese-operated vessel seized on November 19, 2023, and its 25-person crew. Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam dismissed the resolution and accused the United States of violating international law with its Operation Prosperity Guardian, the multinational taskforce launched on December 18, 2023, to defend against Houthi attacks in the region. 

CEP Resources: 

Houthi Group Report

How the Houthis Built Their Arsenal: Defense and Intelligence Procurement

The Houthis and U.S.-Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations

The Houthis: Terrorizing Women and Journalists.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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