Houthis

Executive Summary:

The Houthis—officially known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God)—are an Iranian-backed, Shiite Muslim military and political movement in Yemen.Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen's Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215; Saeed Al Batati, “Who are the Houthis in Yemen?,” Al Jazeera, March 29, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/08/yemen-houthis-hadi-protests-201482132719818986.html; Zachary Laub, “Yemen in Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 19, 2016, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488. Its members, who subscribe to the minority Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam, advocate regional autonomy for Zaidis in northern Yemen. The group has waged a series of bloody insurgencies against the Yemeni government since 2004, overthrowing them and seizing power in Sanaa in 2015.Ahmed al-Haj, “Yemen Shiite Rebels Harden Their Protest Demands,” Associated Press, August 25, 2014, https://wtop.com/news/2014/08/yemen-shiite-rebels-harden-their-protest-demands/; Rod Nordland, “Rebels in Yemen Say They Intend to Form a New Government,” New York Times, February 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-say-they-will-dissolve-parliament.html?_r=1. In 2016, the group announced the formation of a government.“Formation of New Houthi Government Does Not Help Yemen: U.N. Envoy,” Reuters, November 29, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-un-idUSKBN13O2K1. Almost a decade after the beginning of the Houthis insurgency in 2015, as of 2023, nearly six million Yemenis have been displaced by the conflict and more than 23.4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.“Yemen Crisis Explained,” UNHCR, July 14, 2022, https://www.unrefugees.org/news/yemen-crisis-explained/.

The Houthi movement began as an effort to maintain tribal autonomy in northern Yemen and protest Western influence in the Middle East. Today, the Houthis seek a greater role in the Yemeni government and continue to advocate Zaidi minority interests.“5 Things to Know About the Houthis of Yemen,” Dick Streuly, Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2015/02/12/5-things-houthis-yemen/. The movement is known for its virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the group’s ubiquitous slogan: “God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!” Noah Browning and Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen Houthis Launch ‘Martyr’ Videos to Raise Morale,” Reuters, March 9, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/09/uk-yemen-security-videos-idUKKBN0M51M020150309. Several of the group’s leaders have been designated as terrorists by the United States.“Yemen Designations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 14, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20150414_33.aspx; “Treasury Sanctions Political Spoilers Threatening the Peace, Security and Stability of Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 10, 2014, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2693.aspx.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is closely associated with the group, providing training and military equipment to the Houthis.Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian Guards Training Yemen’s Houthis: U.S. Officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327. The Iranian ship Jihan I was seized allegedly en route to Yemen in 2013 with arms meant for the Houthis.Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian Support Seen Crucial for Yemen’s Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/15/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215.

The Houthis’ roots trace back to the 1990s, when Houthis founder Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi created the al-Shabab al-Mumanin (Believing Youth) movement in an effort to combine religious revivalism with anti-imperialism.Adam Taylor, “Who Are the Houthis, the Group That Just Toppled Yemen’s Government?,” Washington Post, January 22, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/01/22/who-are-the-houthis-the-group-that-just-toppled-yemens-government/. The movement sought to educate local youth about Zaidism’s long history in Saada Governorate, northern Yemen.  To that end, the al-Houthi family launched a network of associations, sports clubs, and summer camps.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 6, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The al-Houthis also sought to protect Zaidism from perceived encroachment of Salafism and Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia into northern Yemen, where Zaidism has been dominant for centuries.Farea al-Muslimi, “The Houthi Paradox,” Middle East Institute, January 16, 2014, http://www.mei.edu/content/houthi-paradox.

God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!Houthis slogan

The Houthi movement grew increasingly politically engaged in 2003, in reaction and opposition to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s support for the U.S-led war in Iraq.Zachary Laub, “Who Are Yemen’s Houthis?,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 25, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemens-houthis/p36178. Domestically, Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi continued to seek autonomy for Saada Governorate from Yemen’s Sunni-dominated central government.

After Saleh dispatched troops in a failed attempt to arrest al-Houthi in 2004, the Houthis launched an insurgency against the government. Al-Houthi was killed during clashes with the government in 2004, but the movement has continued in his name, waging a series of intermittent wars against the government, with Saudi forces intervening to support Sanaa in the years since.Zachary Laub, “Yemen in Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 8, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488.

During these wars, Saleh repeatedly sought to appease the Houthis by issuing amnesties to their prisoners and even pardoning Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi in 2005, but al-Houthi rejected the pardon and the periodic fighting continued.Christopher Boucek, “War in Saada: From Local Insurrection to National Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2010, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/war_in_saada.pdf. In 2007, Qatar brokered a brief cease-fire called the Doha Agreement, but the deal failed to satisfy the parties and fighting resumed that year.Christopher Boucek, “War in Saada: From Local Insurrection to National Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2010, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/war_in_saada.pdf. In 2009, with the Saleh government launched the massive Operation Scorched Earth, which sought to crush the insurgency for good, and was backed by financial, political, and military support from the Saudis.Christopher Boucek, “War in Saada: From Local Insurrection to National Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2010, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/war_in_saada.pdf. However, the campaign failed, and intermittent fighting continued.Christopher Boucek, “War in Saada: From Local Insurrection to National Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2010, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/war_in_saada.pdf.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, mass protests began against the Yemeni government, and Saleh stepped down in 2012 pursuant to an internationally negotiated transition agreement.Angus McDowell and Lisa Barrington, “Timeline: Yemen’s Slide into Political Crisis and War,” Reuters, March 21, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-timeline/timeline-yemens-slide-into-political-crisis-and-war-idUSKCN1R20HO. The Houthis participated in a National Dialogue Conference but continued fighting against government forces.Sama’a Al-Hamdani, “Understanding the Houthi Faction in Yemen,” Lawfare, April 7, 2019, https://www.lawfareblog.com/understanding-houthi-faction-yemen.

The Houthis made significant territorial gains in 2014-2015. In September 2014, the group  captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa,Mohammed Ghobari, “Houthis tighten grip on Yemen capital after swift capture, power-sharing deal,” Reuters, September 22, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/22/us-yemen-security-idUSKCN0HH2BQ20140922. resulting in the resignation of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi in January 2015.Mark Mazzetti and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Saudi Arabia Leads Air Assault in Yemen,” New York Times, March 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/world/middleeast/al-anad-air-base-houthis-yemen.html?_r=0; “Yemen president quits, throwing country deeper into chaos,” Reuters, January 22, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-houthis-idUSKBN0KV0HT20150122. The following month, the Houthis officially announced the dissolution of Hadi’s parliament and the institution of their interim government, known as the Supreme Revolutionary Committee (SRC).Rod Nordland, “Rebels in Yemen Say They Intend to Form a New Government,” New York Times, February 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/07/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-say-they-will-dissolve-parliament.html?_r=1.

The United Nations began facilitating peace talks between the Houthis and the Yemeni government in October 2015, but the talks ended without an agreement in early August 2016.“Yemeni President Dismisses Houthi Concessions as ‘Maneuver,’” Reuters, October 8, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/09/us-yemen-security-politics-idUSKCN0S21GC20151009; “Yemen’s Hadi Launches Military Operation East of Sanaa, Peace Talks End,” Reuters, August 6, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/yemens-hadi-launches-military-operation-east-of-sanaa-peace-talks-end-idUSKCN10H0B4. The government of Saudi Arabia has also made multiple attempts to negotiate with the Houthis, launching the first talks in March 2016.Mohammad al-Kibsi and Asa Fitch, “Saudi Arabia, Houthi Rebels Hold Direct Talks on Yemen War,” Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/yemen-rebels-saudi-arabia-begin-peace-talks-to-end-nearly-year-long-war-1457520050; Haytham Mouzahem, “Yemen Peace Talks Stuck in Stalemate," Al Monitor, May 20, 2016, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/yemen-talks-kuwait-war-saudi-arabia-houthis-hadi-government.html. As of 2023, multiple iterations of peace talks have so far only resulted in stalemates.Muhammed Semiz, “Yemen's Houthi rebels announce breakdown of talks with Saudi Arabia,” Anadolu Agency, July 24, 2023, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/yemens-houthi-rebels-announce-breakdown-of-talks-with-saudi-arabia/2952532; “Saudi, Omani envoys hold peace talks with Houthi leaders in Yemen,” Al Jazeera, April 9, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/9/saudi-omani-envoys-in-yemen-for-peace-talks-with-houthi-leaders; Vivian Nereim and Shuaib Almosawa, “What Do Peace Talks in Yemen Mean for Its 8-Year War?,” New York Times, April 10, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/10/world/middleeast/yemen-peace-talks.html.

In August 2016, the SRC handed its authority to the Supreme Political Council (SPC), a government body formed by the July 2016 merger between the Houthis and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.“SRC Hands Over Authority to SPC,” Yemen News Agency, August 15, 2016, http://sabanews.net/en/news437023.htm. The alliance ended in December 2017 after Saleh offered to reconcile with Saudi Arabia, leading to the assassination of Saleh at the hands of Houthi forces shortly after.Hakim Almasmari, Tamara Qiblawi, and Hilary Clarke, “Yemen’s Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh Killed Trying to Flee Sanaa,” CNN, December 4, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/04/middleeast/yemen-former-president-ali-abdullah-saleh-killed-intl/index.html; Marwan Bishara, “Analysis: Yemen’s Ex-president Saleh’s Killing Was ‘Revenge,’” Al Jazeera, December 4, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/analysis-yemens-ex-president-salehs-killing-revenge-171204135213663.html.

Following a week of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden, all parties tentatively agreed to an immediate cease-fire in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah on December 13, 2018.Patrick Wintour and Bethan McKernan, “Yemen: ceasefire agreed for port city of Hodeidah,” Guardian (London), December 13, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/13/yemen-ceasefire-agreed-for-vital-port-city-of-hodeidah. However, few of the conditions agreed upon were implemented by either side. Fighting continued until February 17, 2019, when the Houthis and Yemeni government finally withdrew their forces from the city of Hodeidah.Patrick Wintour, “Time running out to turn Yemen ceasefire into peace, says Hunt,” Guardian, February 13, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/13/time-running-out-to-turn-yemen-ceasefire-into-peace-says-hunt; “Yemen and Houthi rebels agree to withdrawal deal,” Guardian (London), February 17, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/17/yemen-and-houthi-rebels-agree-to-withdrawal-deal. Since 2017, the Houthis have also repeatedly attacked Saudi Arabia with missiles and drones and ramped up strikes in the spring and summer of 2019.Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel, “Mideast Insurgents Enter the Age of Drone Warfare,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/mideast-insurgents-enter-the-age-of-drone-warfare-11556814441?mod=article_inline; Jared Malsin, “Iran-Allied Houthis Expose Holes in Saudi Arabia’s Missile Defense,” Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-allied-houthis-expose-holes-in-saudi-arabias-missile-defense-11561455002?redirect=amp#click=https://t.co/UFfZ7eqUCa.

On August 27, 2019, the U.S. government was reportedly preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the civil war in Yemen to an end, but the attempt did not result in significant progress.Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel, “U.S. Plans to Open Direct Talks With Iran-Backed Houthis in Yemen,” Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-plans-to-open-direct-talks-with-iran-backed-houthis-in-yemen-11566898204. Saudi Arabia presented another ceasefire plan to the Houthis in March 2021, which the militants rejected unless Saudi Arabia fully lifted its blockade of northern Yemen and ceased targeting Houthi positions.Aziz El Yaakoubi, “Saudi Arabia proposes ceasefire in Yemen, Houthis sceptical,” Reuters, March 22, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-saudi-idUSKBN2BE228; Mohammed Hatem and Dana Khraiche, “Yemen’s Houthis Say Ready for Peace But Won’t Bargain Over Siege,” Bloomberg, March 25, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-25/houthi-rebels-say-ready-for-peace-only-if-saudi-ends-attacks. The Saudi-led coalition then promised to stop carrying out attacks against the movement to facilitate peace talks in June 2021.“Yemen Raids Halted to Push Peace Efforts: Saudi-Led Coalition,” Defense Post, June 10, 2021, https://www.thedefensepost.com/2021/06/10/yemen-raids-halted-peace-efforts/; Ahmed Al-Haj, “Yemeni news agency: Rebel missiles hit key city, killing 8,” Washington Post, June 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/yemeni-news-agency-rebel-missiles-hit-key-city-killing-8/2021/06/10/9a7c22f0-ca1e-11eb-8708-64991f2acf28_story.html.

On June 21, 2021, the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis attempted to negotiate a peace deal with the help of U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths and U.S. envoy Tim Lenderking. However, the Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, noted that the Houthis wanted to ensure reopening access to Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port before discussing a comprehensive ceasefire.Aziz Yaakoubi, “End of Yemen quagmire? Saudi-led coalition, Houthis near peace deal,” Reuters, June 21, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/end-yemen-quagmire-saudi-led-coalition-houthis-near-peace-deal-2021-06-21/. By providing the Iranian-backed Houthis with open access to Sanaa and Hodeidah, Riyadh would intentionally be putting Saudi Arabia’s domestic security at risk by allowing Iran access to the region.Abubakr Al-Shamahi, “‘Bitter pill to swallow’: Saudis grapple with Yemen peace deal,” Al Jazeera, June 29, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/29/oman-takes-on-ambitious-mediator-role-in-yemen-conflict.

The Houthis began an offensive on Marib, capturing Rahabah district, on September 8, 2021.Abubakr Al-Shamahi, “Yemeni government forces again on the backfoot,” Al Jazeera, September 14, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/14/are-yemeni-government-forces-once-again-on-the-backfoot. Local tribes fought to repel the Houthis, but the Houthis continued to advance throughout Marib. Given the ongoing offensive, more than ten thousand civilians have been displaced, with aid workers on the ground accusing the Houthis of committing genocide in Marib province by denying civilians access to medical and humanitarian aid, leading to the displacement and starvation of thousands.“Yemenis trapped, displaced by fierce fighting in Marib region,” Reuters, October 14, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/yemenis-trapped-displaced-by-fierce-fighting-marib-region-2021-10-14/; Ali Mahmood, “Humanitarian situation worsens in southern Marib following Al Abdiyah takeover,” National (Abu Dhabi), October 17, 2021, https://www.thenationalnews.com/gulf-news/2021/10/17/humanitarian-situation-worsens-in-southern-marib-following-al-abdiyah-takeover/; “Yemenis trapped, displaced by fierce fighting in Marib region,” Reuters, October 14, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/yemenis-trapped-displaced-by-fierce-fighting-marib-region-2021-10-14/. On October 12, 2021, the internationally recognized Yemeni government declared southern Marib a military zone following Houthi gains in the area. By November 2021, the Saudi-led coalition killed more than 2,000 Houthis around Marib city since early October.“More than 150 Houthis killed, injured in Yemen’s Abedia: Arab coalition,” Arab News, October 18, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1950341/middle-east; “Yemeni authorities issue fresh plea to rescue civilians trapped in Houthi-besieged district,” Levant, October 12, 2021, https://thelevantnews.com/en/2021/10/yemeni-authorities-issue-fresh-plea-to-rescue-civilians-trapped-in-houthi-besieged-district/; “Yemenis trapped, displaced by fierce fighting in Marib region,” Reuters, October 14, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/yemenis-trapped-displaced-by-fierce-fighting-marib-region-2021-10-14/; “More than 85 Houthis killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition,” Arab News, October 26, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1955751/middle-east; “Coalition says 218 Houthis killed in airstrikes around Marib city,” Arab News, November 1, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1958871/middle-east.

Despite continued fighting, on March 8, 2022, U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg launched consultations in Aman, Jordan, between the Houthis and Yemeni government on the prospects of launching a peace process. However, the Houthis renewed attacks on government troops on the Al-Balaq mountain range outside Marib city. The Houthis reportedly failed to achieve any territorial gains after government forces repelled their attacks. On March 28, the United Nations began brokering prisoner-swap negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia.Saeed Al-Batati, “Fighting rages outside Yemen’s Marib as UN envoy meets leaders,” Arab News, March 13, 2022, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2041846/middle-east; “Welcoming the Launch of UN Consultations on Yemen,” U.S. Department of State, March 8, 2022, https://www.state.gov/welcoming-the-launch-of-un-consultations-on-yemen/; “Gulf states hold Yemen talks despite boycott by the Houthis,” Al Jazeera, March 29, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/29/gulf-states-to-hold-yemen-talks-despite-boycott-by-houthi-rebels; “Yemen warring parties discuss possible prisoner swap including 16 Saudis,” Reuters, March 28, 2022, “https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/houthi-official-says-new-prisoner-swap-deal-includes-16-saudis-brother-yemen-2022-03-27/.

A month after launching negotiations, on April 1, 2022, the Houthis and the Saudi-led military agreed to a U.N.-brokered two-month truce, the first coordinated cessation of hostilities since 2016. The parties agreed to halt all offensive military air, ground, and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The ceasefire proved successful and was extended for an additional two months on June 2. However, on July 17, 2022, the Iran-backed Houthis stated they will not renew the U.N.-brokered truce with the Saudi-led military in Yemen. According to the movement’s SPC, international calls to extend the truce “affect the sovereignty, security and stability of Yemen” and were the reason behind the group’s decision to not renew the ceasefire.Mostafa Salem and Lianne Kolirin, “Saudi-led coalition and Houthis agree on truce in Yemen, raising hopes for the 'start of a better future',” CNN, April 1, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/01/middleeast/yemen-truce-un-intl/index.html; Saeed Al-Batati, “Yemen troops battle new Houthi attacks near Marib,” Arab News, April 9, 2022, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2059456/middle-east; Aziz El Yaakoubi, “Yemen warring parties agree to extend truce for two months -U.N.,” Reuters, June 2, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/yemen-warring-parties-agree-extend-truce-two-months-un-2022-06-02/; “Yemen’s Houthis ‘will not extend UN-brokered truce’,” Arab News, July 17, 2022, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2123966/middle-east; Aziz El Yaakoubi, “U.N. presses Yemen warring parties for six-month truce extension -sources,” Reuters, July 18, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/un-presses-yemen-warring-parties-six-month-truce-extension-sources-2022-07-18/.

The six-month-long ceasefire between the Houthis and the Yemeni government expired without prospects for renewal on October 2, 2022.“End of Yemen’s truce leaves civilians afraid dark days are back,” Al Jazeera, October 7, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/7/end-yemen-truce-leaves-civilians-afraid-dark-days-back. Relations were further strained when Yemen’s National Defense Council designated the Houthis as a terrorist group on October 22, given the movement’s continued violent activity against civilians.Zeynep Tüfekçi Gülay, “Yemen's National Defense Council labels Houthis as terror group,” Anadolu Agency, October 23, 2022, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/yemens-national-defense-council-labels-houthis-as-terror-group/2718571. Later in February 2023, the Yemeni government warned of a “decisive” battle against the Houthis if peace efforts fail.Ali Rabah, “Yemen Demands Decisive Int’l Stance against Houthi Terrorism,” Asharq Al-Awsat, March 1, 2023, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/4185916/yemen-demands-decisive-int%E2%80%99l-stance-against-houthi-terrorism.

In early April 2023, in the midst of Saudi Arabia and Iran agreeing to restore diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia and the Houthis initiated peace negotiations in Sanaa. The consultations, which are separate from U.N. peace efforts, were mediated by Oman.“Saudi, Omani envoys hold peace talks with Houthi leaders in Yemen,” Al Jazeera, April 9, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/9/saudi-omani-envoys-in-yemen-for-peace-talks-with-houthi-leaders; Vivian Nereim and Shuaib Almosawa, “What Do Peace Talks in Yemen Mean for Its 8-Year War?,” New York Times, April 10, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/10/world/middleeast/yemen-peace-talks.html. Through the talks, Saudi Arabia sought to “stabilize the truce and cease-fire” that will lead to long-term political stability for Yemen. Additionally, the negotiations seemed to enforce the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. However, Yemen’s internationally recognized government was excluded from the talks.“Saudi, Omani envoys hold peace talks with Houthi leaders in Yemen,” Al Jazeera, April 9, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/9/saudi-omani-envoys-in-yemen-for-peace-talks-with-houthi-leaders; Vivian Nereim and Shuaib Almosawa, “What Do Peace Talks in Yemen Mean for Its 8-Year War?,” New York Times, April 10, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/10/world/middleeast/yemen-peace-talks.html. Though, on July 23, 2023, the Houthis announced that peace negotiations with Saudi Arabia have paused due to disagreements concerning the source of funds to pay the salaries of civil servants living in Houthi-controlled areas.Muhammed Semiz, “Yemen's Houthi rebels announce breakdown of talks with Saudi Arabia,” Anadolu Agency, July 24, 2023, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/yemens-houthi-rebels-announce-breakdown-of-talks-with-saudi-arabia/2952532.

Doctrine:

Unlike Sunni extremist groups in Yemen, the Houthis adhere to Zaidism, a doctrinally distinct off-shoot of mainstream “Twelver” Shiism.“Yemen Crisis: Who is Fighting Whom?,” BBC News, March 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423. While Zaidism ruled Yemen for approximately 900 years beginning in the 9th century, the country has been officially secular since 1962, when a military coup ended the rule of Imam Mohammed Al-Badr.Zachary Laub, “Yemen in Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 8, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488; Asher Orkaby, “A Road Map to Chaos in Yemen,” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2015,  http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-road-map-to-chaos-in-yemen-1428619669.

The Houthi movement has drawn attention for its anti-American, anti-Semitic slogan, “God is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!”Noah Browning and Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen Houthis Launch ‘Martyr’ Videos to Raise Morale,” Reuters (UK), March 9, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/09/uk-yemen-security-videos-idUKKBN0M51M020150309. While some analysts maintain that the slogan does not reflect the group’s objectives, the Houthis have issued threats against Yemen’s Jewish community and attempted to force the U.S. ambassador from Yemen to leave.Madeleine Wells, “Yemen’s Houthi movement and the revolution,” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/yemens-houthi-movement-and-the-revolution/. The Jews living in Saada were threatened by the Houthis in 2007 and forced to relocate to Sanaa, where they were living under government protection as of early 2015.Sam Sokol, “Yemen Coup Could Spell Trouble for Local Jewish Community,” Jerusalem Post, January 21, 2015, http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Yemen-coup-could-spell-trouble-for-local-Jews-388495.

The Houthis have detained numerous foreign nationals, including at least five Americans. In June 2015, the Houthis released one American captive.Kareem Fahim, “U.S. Citizens Held in Yemen by Houthis,” New York Times, May 31, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/world/middleeast/us-citizens-held-in-yemen-by-houthis.html?_r=0; Elise Labott and Khushbu Shah, “One American held in Yemen released,” CNN, June 2, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/01/politics/yemen-four-americans-held-houthis/. On September 20, 2015, after the intercession of Oman’s government, the Houthis released three more hostages, including U.S. citizen Scott Darden, a logistics employee from Louisiana, and one other American. On November 10, 2015, U.S. officials reported that American contractor John Hamen, who had been detained sometime in October 2015, was dead. The announcement was followed by the release of three other Americans believed to be working for the United Nations.Associated Press, “3 Americans reportedly held captive in Yemen's capital freed, flown to Oman after negotiation,” U.S. News and World Report, November 19, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/11/19/oman-news-agency-3-americans-flown-in-from-war-torn-yemen.

Organizational Structure:

The Houthi movement’s organizational structure is opaque. The movement began as a grassroots religious organization aimed at youth,Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 6, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. but over time it has entered politics and developed military capabilities. Following the killing of movement founder Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi by Yemeni forces in 2004, the Houthis were led by Hussein’s father, spiritual leader Badr al-Din al-Houthi. The movement’s current leader is Hussein’s younger brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.“Yemen's Abd-al-Malik al-Houthi,” BBC News, October 3, 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/monitoring/yemens-abd-almalik-alhouthi.

The organization revolves around a General Secretary, Fadhl Abu Talib, and has multiple “departments.” These departments include the political office—al-maktab al-siyasi—as well as the external relations office, health office, education office, social office, intelligence service, and the “media authority to counter the aggression.” However, the Houthis still have yet to make an organizational chart publicly available.“The Houthi Supervisory System,” ACAPS, June 17, 2020, https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20200617_acaps_yemen_analysis_hub_the_houthi_supervisory_system.pdf.

Since December 2, 2017 after the death of President Saleh, the Houthis have ruled northern Yemen. In Houthi-controlled territories, formal state authorities exist alongside the Houthi supervisory system. Decision-making within the Houthi regime is not in the hands of those who are actors of the state—such as governors or ministers—but rather with Houthi supervisors.“The Houthi Supervisory System,” ACAPS, June 17, 2020, https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20200617_acaps_yemen_analysis_hub_the_houthi_supervisory_system.pdf.

Houthi political leadership is organized around four “wings.” These wings include the military wing, which is headed by Abdullah al-Hakim; the tribal wing, which includes tribesmen; the ideological wing which is led by Abdulkarim al-Houthi; and the political wing, which is represented by Mahdi al-Mashat, the current president of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee (SPC).“The Houthi Supervisory System,” ACAPS, June 17, 2020, https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20200617_acaps_yemen_analysis_hub_the_houthi_supervisory_system.pdf.

Financing:

Yemeni officials have long accused Iran’s Shiite Islamist regime of providing political, financial, and logistical support to the Houthi rebels and other secessionist movements in Yemen. Despite a 2015 U.N. report confirming Tehran’s support of the rebel group since at least 2009, Iran and the Houthis have historically denied engaging in past cooperation.Carole Landry, “Iran arming Yemen's Houthi rebels since 2009: UN report,” Middle East Eye, May 1, 2015, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iran-arming-yemens-huthi-rebels-2009-un-report-1170499355. Nevertheless, other reports subsequently confirmed Iranian support, including a Reuters article in December of 2014 confirming financial backing by Tehran. One source stated, “We think there is cash, some of which is channeled via Hezbollah and sacks of cash arriving at the airport.”Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen’s Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/15/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215. Only in 2015 did a Houthi official confirm that Iran provided “direct support” in the form of logistics, intelligence, and cash, to the Houthis rebels. According to the official, the group has received tens of millions of dollars from the Iranian regime in recent years.Jay Solomon, Dion Nissenbaum, and Asa Fitch, “In Strategic Shift, U.S. Draws Closer to Yemeni Rebels,” Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-strategic-shift-u-s-draws-closer-to-yemeni-rebels-1422576308. Experts place the amount of financial support from Iran at between $10 and $20 million per year, including at least one alleged payment of $3.7 million.Kellan Howell, “Iran spending billions on terrorists’ salaries: report,” Washington Times, September 5, 2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/5/iran-spending-billions-on-terrorists-salaries-repo/;
“Yemen: Classified document reveals extent of Iranian support for Houthis,” Asharq al-Awsat, July 6, 2015, http://english.aawsat.com/2015/07/article55344262/yemen-classified-document-reveals-extent-of-iranian-support-for-houthis.

In addition to allegedly sending financial support to the Houthis, Iran also reportedly dispatches military personnel and weapons, including missiles, explosives, and small arms.Yara Bayoumy and Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: Iran steps up weapons supply to Yemen's Houthis via Oman - officials,” Reuters, October 20, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-iran-idUSKCN12K0CX. American intelligence officials have claimed that the Houthis receive considerably less support from Iran than some have alleged.Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, “U.S. Ship Off Yemen Fires Missiles at Houthi Rebel Sites,” October 12, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-missile-warship.html?_r=0. Nonetheless, on March 28, 2016, the U.S. Navy reportedly intercepted weapons from Iran believed to be headed for Houthi rebels.“U.S. Navy says it seized weapons from Iran likely bound for Houthis in Yemen,” Reuters, April 4, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-yemen-arms-idUSKCN0X12DB. Among the weapons intercepted were 1,500 AK-47 rifles, 200 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and 21 .50-caliber machine guns, according to Reuters.“U.S. Navy says it seized weapons from Iran likely bound for Houthis in Yemen,” Reuters, April 4, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa-yemen-arms-idUSKCN0X12DB.

A 2018 U.N. report accused Iran of supplying missiles and drones to the Houthis.Edith M. Lederer, “UN experts: Fuel from Iran is financing Yemen rebels’ war,” Associated Press, January 19, 2019, https://apnews.com/article/b406265e1c6642fd9a614416270263b6. In January 2019, the U.N.’s Panel of Experts on Yemen reported that they had “traced the supply to the Houthis of unmanned aerial vehicles and a mixing machine for rocket fuel and found that individuals and entities of Iranian origin have funded the purchase.Ahmed Himmiche, Fernando Rosenfeld Carvajal et al, “Letter Dated 25 January 2019 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, January 25, 2019, 40, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2019_83.pdf. In June 2020, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported to the Security Council that cruise missiles used attacks on Saudi oil facilities and an international airport in Saudi Arabia in November 2019 and February 2020 were of Iranian origin.“Missiles used to attack Saudi Arabia of ‘Iranian origin’: UN,” Al Jazeera, June 12, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/6/12/missiles-used-to-attack-saudi-arabia-of-iranian-origin-un.

Though Iran has provided military and financial support to the Houthis, Iran had previously neither confirmed nor denied recognition of the Houthi government in Sanaa. In August 2019, the Houthis appointed Ibrahim al-Dulaimi, director-general of Houthi-run Al Masirah TV station, as ambassador of the Houthi government to Iran.“Government outraged as Yemen rebels make TV boss ‘ambassador’ to Iran,” National (Abu Dhabi), last updated March 1, 2020, https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/mena/government-outraged-as-yemen-rebels-make-tv-boss-ambassador-to-iran-1.899666. Iran accepted the appointment and transferred Yemen’s official diplomatic residence in Tehran to Dulaimi. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has since met with Dulaimi and the Iranian government has recognized the legitimacy of the Houthi government. In October 2020, Iran appointed its own ambassador, Hassan Eyrlou, to the Houthi government.“Tehran Boosts Support for Houthis by Appointing Ambassador to Sanaa,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), October 18, 2020, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2571116/tehran-boosts-support-houthis-appointing-ambassador-sanaa.

On June 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on 12 individuals and entities who comprise a smuggling network responsible for providing tens of millions of dollars of funds to the Houthis. The individuals and entities—who allegedly are in cooperation with IRGCs Quds Force senior officials—sell commodities, such as Iranian petroleum, throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The revenue from those sales have further supplemented the Houthis and their ongoing offensive on Yemeni soil. Among the most notorious of the designations is Sa’id Ahmad Muhammad al-Jamal, an Iran-based Houthi financial supporter, who directs the network of front companies and vessels. Al-Jamal also maintains connections to Hezbollah as he works with the group to send millions of dollars to support the Houthis and their operations.Aziz Yaakoubi, “U.S. sanctions Houthi military leaders as peace efforts stall,” Reuters, May 20, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-imposes-sanctions-two-houthi-military-leaders-2021-05-20/.

In late February 2023, the Yemeni government warned two shipping companies it would revoke their licenses if the companies were found cooperating with the Houthis, including sending shipments through the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah Port.“Yemen Threatens to Punish Shipping Companies Cooperating with Houthis,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), February 26, 2023, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/4180296/yemen-threatens-punish-shipping-companies-cooperating-houthis. Under the terms of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, ports revenues are to be used to support civil service salaries.Patrick Wintour and Bethan McKernan, “Yemen: Ceasefire Agreed for Port City of Hodeidah,” Guardian (London), December 13, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/13/yemen-ceasefire-agreed-for-vital-port-city-of-hodeidah; “A YEAR AFTER THE STOCKHOLM AGREEMENT: WHERE ARE WE NOW?,” U.N. Office of the Special Envoy  of the Secretary for Yemen, December 2019, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/year-after-stockholm-agreement-where-are-we-now. A March 2023 U.N. report accused the Houthis of diverting billions of Yemeni riyals from oil, taxes, and other levies. According to the United Nations, between April 2, 2022, and November 30, 2022, 69 tankers delivered 1,810,498 tons of oil derivatives to the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, generating 271.935 billion Yemeni rials (approximately $271 million) for the Houthis. The Houthis either pocketed the money themselves or used it to finance their military activities. The United Nations accused Houthi leaders’ families of amassing vast personal fortunes.Saeed al-Batati, “Houthis pocket millions of dollars of public funds say UN experts,” Arab News, March 1, 2023, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2260541/middle-east.

Recruitment:

According to Houthi officials in 2018, the rebels maintained a force of 60,000 fighters, while outside estimates have placed the number between 15,000 and 50,000.Maggie Michael, “Children as young as 10 fight, kill and die in Yemen’s war,” Associated Press, December 19, 2018, https://apnews.com/article/082c0b7b6253468e97da5ee0c3f43066. The Houthis’ primary area of recruitment is the northern provinces of Yemen, its heartland of ideological support.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 30, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. In February 2016, al-Arabiya reported that the group had expanded recruitment beyond its traditional political base by inducing “mercenaries” from African countries.“Yemeni official: Houthis recruiting African fighters,” al-Arabiya, February 29, 2016, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2016/02/29/Top-Yemeni-officials-Houthis-recruiting-mercenaries-.html. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. In May 2020, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Iryani warned that the Houthis were increasingly recruiting civilians in areas under Houthi control.“Yemeni minister warns of forced war recruitment operations in Houthi areas,” Arab News, May 5, 2020, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1669861/middle-east.

Houthi recruitment efforts inside Yemen have benefitted from the unpopularity of the Yemeni government.Sarah Phillips, “Cracks in the Yemeni System,” Middle East Research and Information Project, July 28, 2005, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero072805; Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 327, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. Since the 2011 uprising that removed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, the Houthis have increasingly attracted potential recruits to anti-government public protests in support of the movement.Mohammed Ghobari, Angus McDowall, “Countries backing shaky Yemen transition warn Houthis against violence,” Reuters, August 19, 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/08/19/yemen-houthis-idINKBN0GJ1IL20140819. In the summer of 2014, the group gained noticeable traction when it protested the Yemeni government’s decision to cut popular fuel subsidies. Houthi-led protests attracted tens of thousands of supporters, including not only Zaidis but also Sunnis, to Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.Mohammed Ghobari, Angus McDowall, “Countries backing shaky Yemen transition warn Houthis against violence,” Reuters, August 19, 2014, http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/08/19/yemen-houthis-idINKBN0GJ1IL20140819.

Since the 1990s, Houthi recruitment has reached out to its target Zaidi audience through social connections and networking, proselytizing through religious sermons, the dissemination of written materials, audio and videotapes, and online recruitment.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 216, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The Houthis began paramilitary activities in 2004 and began distributing military training videos electronically and in person where possible.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 220, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf.

The Houthis have also revived local Zaidi rituals, including events where potential recruits can socialize with pro-jihadi Houthi militia men, with the intention of encouraging new recruits to join the veterans.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 254, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. A pro-Houthi youth movement called Shabab al-Sumud (Steadfast Youth) has also provided support, including by managing a tent in Maydan Taghayr (Change Square) in 2012 where members of the public could enter and watch pro-Houthi videos.Madeleine Wells, “Yemen’s Houthi movement and the revolution,” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/yemens-houthi-movement-and-the-revolution/.

The group is also active on the Internet, including on YouTube channels where it posts pro-Houthi videos, as well as web forums to promote the Houthi movement.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 219-220, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The Houthis operate the TV channel Al Masirah,Saeed al Batati, “Violence Erupts in Yemen Capital After Weeks of Rallies,” New York Times, September 9, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/world/middleeast/violence-erupts-in-yemen-capital-after-weeks-of-rallies.html. which publishes pro-Houthi videos, including poems and songs.Mohammad Al-Khayat, “Houthi Poetry and Songs: Propaganda, Art or Both?,” Yemen Times (Sanaa), December 4, 2014, http://www.yementimes.com/en/1839/report/4657/Houthi-poetry-and-songs-Propaganda-art-or-both.htm. In 2007, group leader Abdel Malik founded the Al Minbar website,Ahmed Mamdou, “Abdel Malik Al Houthi: the Shiite Thorn on Yemen’s Side,” Al-Bawaba (Amman), http://www.albawabaeg.com/52258. which published press statements, editorials, speeches, videos, and images to promote its message.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 219, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf; Ahmed Mamdouh, “Abdul Malik Al Houthi: The Shiite Thorn on Yemen’s Side,” AlBawaba, March 25, 2015, http://www.albawabaeg.com/52258. The group has also released statements through website Ansar Allah (Supporters of Allah).Madeleine Wells, “Yemen’s Houthi movement and the revolution,” Foreign Policy, February 27, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/yemens-houthi-movement-and-the-revolution/. Houthi officials also maintain Twitter accounts disseminating pro-Houthi material. For example, in May 2016, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam posted comments accusing the Yemeni government of lying and time-wasting.Mohammed Ghobari, “Yemen officials say peace talks suspended after Houthis seize base,” Reuters, May 1, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-idUSKCN0XS0WT.

Since the start of Yemen’s civil war in 2014, the Houthis have reportedly conscripted more than 30,000 child soldiers, all under the age of 15.“Yemen Rights Group Reveals over 30,000 Child Soldiers Recruited by Houthis,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2020, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2326876/yemen-rights-group-reveals-over-30000-child-soldiers-recruited-houthis. According to a February 2021 study by the Switzerland-based SAM for Rights and Liberties, the Houthis “deliberately used the education system to incite violence and indoctrinate students with the group's ideologies,” particularly by giving children lectures on sectarian content and promoting military victories.Militarized Childhood – A report on the Houthis’ recruitment of Yemeni children during war, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor SAM for Rights and Liberties, February 2021, 7, https://samrl.org/pdf/455childrenyemenrepen.pdf. Houthis have also exploited the extreme poverty rampant in Yemen by offering financial incentives to children whose families’ main providers had been killed.Militarized Childhood – A report on the Houthis’ recruitment of Yemeni children during war, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor SAM for Rights and Liberties, February 2021, 8, https://samrl.org/pdf/455childrenyemenrepen.pdf. Houthi officials have admitted to conscripting at least 18,000 child soldiers as young as 10 years old, though officially the Houthis say they do not recruit children.Maggie Michael, “Children as young as 10 fight, kill and die in Yemen’s war,” Associated Press, December 19, 2018, https://apnews.com/article/082c0b7b6253468e97da5ee0c3f43066. In June 2020, news publication Asharq Al-Awsat revealed that local sources in Sanaa claimed that Houthi forces had launched a recruitment campaign to persuade children and young men to join its ranks. The campaign operates under the guise that recruits will be provided with protection from the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon enlistment, young recruits are asked to save themselves by joining the fighting front, which the Houthis claim is safer than crowded cities and areas.“Children Recruited by Houthis Contract COVID-19 in Yemen’s Saada,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), June 18, 2020, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2340811/children-recruited-houthis-contract-covid-19-yemens-saada. According to the human rights organization the Yemeni Coalition of Independent Women (CIY), child abduction is also widespread and occurs daily in Houthi-controlled areas, especially in Sanaa and the governorates of Ibb, Amran, Hajjah, Mahwit, and Dhamar. However, reports released later in June claim that the Houthis failed to implement necessary health measures to prevent the spread of the virus at indoctrination schools and institutes, leading to dozens of children being infected by COVID-19.“Yemen Rights Group Reveals over 30,000 Child Soldiers Recruited by Houthis,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2020, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2326876/yemen-rights-group-reveals-over-30000-child-soldiers-recruited-houthis; “Houthis launch recruitment campaign in conjunction with disappearance of dozens of children,” Middle East Monitor, June 4, 2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200604-houthis-launch-recruitment-campaign-in-conjunction-with-disappearance-of-dozens-of-children/.

The Houthis have used child soldiers to plant and clear landmines, as well as act as guards. There are also reports of the Houthis sending children to the frontlines to fight.Militarized Childhood – A report on the Houthis’ recruitment of Yemeni children during war, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor SAM for Rights and Liberties, February 2021, 11, https://samrl.org/pdf/455childrenyemenrepen.pdf. As the Houthis continued an offensive in Marib in March 2021, the Houthis reportedly took heavy losses and sought to replenish their ranks with child soldiers. Houthi forces allegedly conscripted at least 85 child soldiers that month alone. The minors received a week of training before they were sent to fight in Marib.“Houthis Draft, Deploy 85 Child Soldiers from Yemen’s Ibb,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), March 29, 2021, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2888001/houthis-draft-deploy-85-child-soldiers-yemen%E2%80%99s-ibb. To further the indoctrination of Yemeni youth, the Houthis have created summer camps that reportedly enroll thousands of children in Houthi-held territory. According to Houthi officials, children are educated to Houthi ideology and “immunized from false cultures” during 45-day sessions at the camps, which culminate with graduation ceremonies attended by the children’s families as well as Houthi officials.Saeed Al-Batati, “Thousands of Yemeni children brainwashed in Houthi ‘summer camps,’” Arab News, August 17, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1912296/middle-east. The children also receive combat training. Parents who refuse to send their children to the Houthi camps are reportedly blacklisted in their communities.Saeed Al-Batati, “Thousands of Yemeni children brainwashed in Houthi ‘summer camps,’” Arab News, August 17, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1912296/middle-east.

The Houthis have also conscripted civil servants from areas under their control. Al-Arabiya reported in 2017 that the Houthis were forcibly subjecting civil servants to two-week “brain washing” sessions before conscripting them.“Houthi militia coercively recruit senior civil servants,” Al Arabiya, last updated May 20, 2020, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2017/03/10/Houthi-militia-coercively-recruit-senior-civil-servants. In 2021 in Ibb, the Houthis ordered all civil servants to enlist in the armed forces and spend at least 14 days on the battlefield.“Houthis Draft, Deploy 85 Child Soldiers from Yemen’s Ibb,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), March 29, 2021, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2888001/houthis-draft-deploy-85-child-soldiers-yemen%E2%80%99s-ibb. The Yemeni Teachers Syndicate has accused the Houthis of conscripting thousands of teachers to the frontlines. According to local media reports, the Houthis claim they are “mobilizing job sectors” by recruiting civil servants to fight for their cause.“A new Houthi recruitment campaign … civil servants to the front,” EG 24 News, June 13, 2020, https://www.eg24.news/2020/06/a-new-houthi-recruitment-campaign-civil-servants-to-the-front.html.

Training:

The Houthis have historically trained their fighters in Yemen’s mountainous north.Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells, Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2010), 27, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG962.pdf. The Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has trained Houthis in Yemen and Iranian military leadership is also believed to be present in Yemen to provide strategic military advice.Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari, “Iranian support seen crucial for Yemen’s Houthis,” Reuters, December 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/15/us-yemen-houthis-iran-insight-idUSKBN0JT17A20141215. In March 2015, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubair also alleged that Hezbollah operatives were advising the Houthis.Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian guards training Yemen’s Houthis: U.S. officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327. In the same month, Syrian military officials were reportedly present in Yemen assisting the Houthis as well.“Syrian regime coordinates military training with Yemeni Houthis,” ARA News, March 9, 2015, http://aranews.net/2015/03/syrian-regime-coordinates-military-training-with-yemeni-houthis/.

In early 2015, U.S. officials reported that the IRGC’s training of Houthi rebels covered the use of advanced weapons, which the Houthis seized from Yemeni military bases.Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, “Elite Iranian guards training Yemen’s Houthis: U.S. officials,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-yemen-security-houthis-iran-idUSKBN0MN2MI20150327. A January 2020 U.N. report claims that Iran continues to provide the Houthis with advanced weaponry and high-tech components for their ammunition systems. According to the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, the IRGC has its own special forces units in Yemen, with some of those units specializing in missiles and others in drones. There are also units specifically focusing on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The IRGC allegedly has multiple operation rooms throughout Yemen, with one located in Hodeidah and another on the west coast of Yemen that secures the arrival of military forces and weapons.Ahmed Eleiba, “Strategic Shift: Iran’s role in Sanaa between Proxy Management and Direct Involvement,” Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, November 7, 2020, https://www.ecsstudies.com/en/strategic-shift-irans-role-in-sanaa-between-proxy-management-and-direct-involvement/; Farzin Nadimi, “The UN Exposes Houthi Reliance on Iranian Weapons,” Washington Institute, February 13, 2020, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-un-exposes-houthi-reliance-on-iranian-weapons.; Trevor Johnston, Matthew Lane, Abigail Casey, Heather J. Williams, Ashley L. Rhoades, James Sladden, Nathan Vest, Jordan R. Reimer, Ryan Haberman, “Could the Houthis Be the Next Hizballah?,” RAND Corporation, 2020, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2551.html. Following the October 28, 2020 appointment of Hassan Eyrlou—an IRGC-Quds Force officer—as ambassador of Iran to the Houthi militia, it is likely that the IRGC will move from providing not just logistical support to the Houthis, but will also direct the way in which the Houthis will manage the Yemeni crisis.Saeed al-Batali, “US slams Iran for ‘smuggling’ envoy into Yemen,” Arab News, October 22, 2020, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1752651/middle-east.

The Houthis have also sought to impose their ideology on the areas of Yemen they have captured. In mid-April 2021, Houthi militants evicted 20 academics and their families from university housing in Sanaa. The Houthis reportedly seek to install academics loyal to their cause within area universities.“Houthis Evict Academics from University Housing in Sanaa,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), April 19, 2021, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2927566/houthis-evict-academics-university-housing-sanaa. According to media reports, the Houthis have replaced 90 percent of school principals with pro-Houthi individuals. The Houthis have also sought to inculcate hatred of the group’s enemies by printing and distributing images of dead children allegedly killed by anti-Houthi forces. Houthi propaganda also positively highlights drone strikes on Saudi Arabia and a hatred of Israel. A member of the Yemeni Teachers Syndicate has claimed the Houthis are enforcing a “policy of cultural colonialism” and the “ideology of the Khomeinist revolution in Yemen through public education,” effectively brainwashing Yemen’s children.Joseph Haboush, “Millions of Yemeni youth being educated with violent, anti-Semitic propaganda: Report,” Al Arabiya, April 15, 2021, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/04/15/Millions-of-Yemeni-youth-being-educated-with-violent-anti-Semitic-propaganda-Report.

Also Known As:

  • Type of Organization:
    Insurgent, religious, social services provider, territory-controlling, violent
  • Ideologies and Affiliations:
    Arab nationalist, jihadist, Islamist, Shiite, Zaidi
  • Place of Origin:
    Saada, Yemen
  • Year of Origin:
    1990s (as the Believing Youth movement); renamed the Houthi rebel movement in 2004
  • Founder(s):

    Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi

  • Places of Operation:

    Yemen

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi

Spiritual, military, and political leader; brother of founder Hussein Badr-al-Din al-Houthi

Youssef al-Midani

Deputy leader; brother-in-law of Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (reported deceased October 2015)

Yahia Badr-al-Din al-Houthi

Senior leader, former lawmaker, brother of founder Hussein Badr-al-Din and current leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi

Abdul-Karim Badr-al-Din Al-Houthi

Senior leader, brother of founder Hussein Badr-al-Din and current leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi

Mohamed Abdul Salam

Spokesman

Faris Manna

Houthi-appointed governor of Saada between 2011 and December 2014; alleged former arms dealer whose assets were frozen by the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. Treasury Department

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi

Member of the Supreme Political Council and former president of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee

Violent activity by the Houthis has consisted mainly of armed rebellion against the Yemeni government, leading to clashes with security forces. Thousands have been killed and displaced as a result of the fighting. The Houthis also briefly fought Saudi forces on the northern border in late 2009, and have battled al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for several years. In October 2016, the rebels took direct action against the United States by conducting a series of failed missile attacks against the U.S. Navy presence in the region.Ryan Browne and Angela Dewan, “US strikes Yemen after missiles launched on warship,” CNN, October 13, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/12/politics/pentagon-us-strikes-hit-radar-sites-in-yemen/. The Houthis had previously kidnapped several American citizens, including a teacher, journalist, humanitarian aid worker.“American English teacher detained in Yemen, officials say,” Fox News, September 22, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/09/22/american-english-teacher-detained-in-yemen-officials-say.html; Jay Solomon, U.S. Met Secretly With Yemen Rebels,” Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-citizen-held-hostage-in-yemen-released-by-houthi-rebels-1433178829; Houthi Rebels Free 5 Hostages Including 2 Americans, in Yemen,” Voice of America, September 20, 2015, http://www.voanews.com/a/houthi-rebels-free-five-hostages-including-two-americans-in-yemen/2971468.html. U.S. ships are not the only vessels the rebels have targeted. Prior to the attacks on the U.S. Navy, a UAE civilian ship was damaged by Houthi missiles that same month.“Yemen conflict: UAE says Houthis attacked civilian ship,” BBC News, October 5, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37561749. Starting in 2017, the Houthis have repeatedly attacked Saudi Arabia with missiles and drones, and have ramped up strikes in 2019, often targeting Saudi airports and oil fields.Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel, “Mideast Insurgents Enter the Age of Drone Warfare,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/mideast-insurgents-enter-the-age-of-drone-warfare-11556814441?mod=article_inline; Jared Malsin, “Iran-Allied Houthis Expose Holes in Saudi Arabia’s Missile Defense,” Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-allied-houthis-expose-holes-in-saudi-arabias-missile-defense-11561455002?redirect=amp#click=https://t.co/UFfZ7eqUCa.

  • Designations
  • Associations
  • Rhetoric

Designations by the U.S. Government:

    • April 14, 2015: The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Houthi leader “Abdul Malik al-Houthi” as a Specially Designated National (SDN).“Treasury Sanctions Instigators of the Violent Takeover of Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 14, 2015, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl10021.aspx.
    • The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated former commander of Yemen’s Republican Guard “Ahmed Ali Saleh” as a Specially Designated National (SDN).“Treasury Sanctions Instigators of the Violent Takeover of Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 14, 2015, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl10021.aspx.
    • The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Sultan Zabin pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Executive Order for being a foreign person who is a leader or official of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure on December 10, 2020.“Treasury Sanctions Serious Human Rights Abusers on International Human Rights Day,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 10, 2020, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1208.
    • The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Abdul Rahab Jarfan pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Executive Order for being a foreign person who is a leader or official of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure on December 10, 2020.“Treasury Sanctions Serious Human Rights Abusers on International Human Rights Day,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 10, 2020, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1208.
    • The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Motlaq Amer al-Marrani pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Executive Order for being a foreign person who is a leader or official of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure on December 10, 2020.“Treasury Sanctions Serious Human Rights Abusers on International Human Rights Day,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 10, 2020, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1208.
    • The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Qader al-Shami pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Executive Order for being a foreign person who is a leader or official of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to their tenure on December 10, 2020.“Treasury Sanctions Serious Human Rights Abusers on International Human Rights Day,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 10, 2020, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1208.
    • The U.S. Department of State designated Ansarallah, a.k.a. the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on January 19, 2021. The government revoked the designation on February 16, 2021.“Terrorist Designation of Ansarallah in Yemen,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2021, https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designation-of-ansarallah-in-yemen/; “Issuance of Counter Terrorism General Licenses and related FAQs; Counter Terrorism Designations; Venezuela-related Designations; CAATSA - Russia-related Designations; Yemen-related Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, January 19, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20210119; “Revocation of the Terrorist Designations of Ansarallah,” U.S. Department of State, February 12, 2021, https://www.state.gov/revocation-of-the-terrorist-designations-of-ansarallah/; “Revocation of Counter Terrorism General Licenses; Counter Terrorism Designations Removal and Updates; Yemen-related Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, February 16, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20210216.
    • The U.S. Department of State designated Abdul Malik al-Houthi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 19, 2021.“Terrorist Designation of Ansarallah in Yemen,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2021, https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designation-of-ansarallah-in-yemen/; “Issuance of Counter Terrorism General Licenses and related FAQs; Counter Terrorism Designations; Venezuela-related Designations; CAATSA - Russia-related Designations; Yemen-related Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, January 19, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20210119.
    • The U.S. Department of State designated Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 19, 2021.“Terrorist Designation of Ansarallah in Yemen,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2021, https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designation-of-ansarallah-in-yemen/; “Issuance of Counter Terrorism General Licenses and related FAQs; Counter Terrorism Designations; Venezuela-related Designations; CAATSA - Russia-related Designations; Yemen-related Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, January 19, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20210119.
    • The U.S. Department of State designated Abdullah Yahya al Hakim as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 19, 2021.“Terrorist Designation of Ansarallah in Yemen,” U.S. Department of State, January 10, 2021, https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designation-of-ansarallah-in-yemen/; “Issuance of Counter Terrorism General Licenses and related FAQs; Counter Terrorism Designations; Venezuela-related Designations; CAATSA - Russia-related Designations; Yemen-related Designations Updates,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, January 19, 2021, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20210119.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, February 24, 2023

“The Americans admit that they are the ones directing the bombing operations and behind the supervision over the aggression since its start.

“The Saudi and Emirati role in the aggression is execution, as they implement what Washington dictates to them.

“The coalition of aggression has significantly harmed the Yemeni people, through its killings, destruction, siege, and starvation, not to mention the grave issues at the health level.”“Marches across Yemen to pledge loyalty to Al-Sammad, support Palestine,” Al Mayadeen English, February 24, 2023, https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/marches-across-yemen-to-pledge-loyalty-to-al-sammad-support.

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, February 17, 2023

“The stage we are in, in Yemen, is a stage of war, and what has calmed down is none but military escalation.”“Al-Houthi to coalition of aggression: Our patience will run out,” Al Mayadeen English, February 17, 2023, https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/al-houthi-to-coalition-of-aggression:-our-patience-will-run.

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, February 17, 2023

“The Americans are the ones that launch military attacks and aggressions, such as their invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, their aggression against Yemen, and their occupation of Palestine.

They “do their best to destabilize the security of our nation, through the founding of Takfiri groups and exerting pressure on the [countries’] regimes to facilitate their operations.”“Al-Houthi to coalition of aggression: Our patience will run out,” Al Mayadeen English, February 17, 2023, https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/al-houthi-to-coalition-of-aggression:-our-patience-will-run.

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, September 1, 2022

“The Yemeni army today has reached great levels in the various fronts it is on, and it is well-established in terms of deterrence. The military strength is to defend every corner of our homeland, including Al-Hudaydah and the west coast altogether. The enemies’ aspirations to occupy our country and control our people are turning to mirages and disappointments due to reality and facts. The enemy today is in real trouble, as our people stand by their army, loyal and determined to prevent the enemy from occupying our country. Yemen today is on the state-level and popular-level more present and with its basic religious principles more in support of the Palestinian people and the Islamic world.”“Military parades boost morale, send message to enemies: Al-Houthi,” Al Mayadeen English, September 1, 2022, https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/military-parades-boost-morale-send-message-to-enemies:-al-ho.

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, September 1, 2022

“We call on the coalition of aggression to take the opportunity to completely halt its aggression and end the blockade and occupation. We call on the coalition of aggression to learn from the lessons that have proven its goals of occupying our country and controlling its people as impossible. Our people and their cause are righteous, and they will continue defending their legitimate rights of liberty, independence, and the lifting of the blockade. We are not aggressive; we are facing aggression, and we aspire to achieve true peace. Our army’s achievements in terms of steadfastness, sacrifices, and capability-building sends many messages to the enemies. All of the enemies’ aspirations to destroy our army’s capabilities and strip it of every power that allows it to counter their aggression and occupy them have been met with failure.”“Military parades boost morale, send message to enemies: Al-Houthi,” Al Mayadeen English, September 1, 2022, https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/military-parades-boost-morale-send-message-to-enemies:-al-ho.

Yahya Sarea, Houthi spokesman, January 31, 2022

“We renew our warning to citizens, residents and companies to stay away from vital headquarters and facilities that will be targets in the coming period.”“Yemen’s Houthis say attacked UAE with drones, missiles,” Reuters, January 31, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/yemens-houthis-say-attacked-uae-with-drones-missiles-2022-01-31/.

Yahya Sarea, Houthi spokesman, March 23, 2021

“Our operations will continue as long as the aggression and siege continue.” (Tweet)“Yemen’s Houthis say they fired drone at Saudi airport after truce offer,” Reuters, March 23, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security/yemens-houthis-say-they-fired-drone-at-saudi-airport-after-truce-offer-idUSKBN2BF1T1.

Yahya Sarea, Houthi spokesman, January 24, 2022

“We advise foreign companies and investors in the UAE to leave as it has become unsafe.”Alexander Cornwell and Alaa Swilam, “UAE blocks missiles as Yemen’s Houthis attack region’s business hub,” Reuters, January 24, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/uaes-defense-ministry-destroyed-2-houthi-ballistic-missiles-wam-2022-01-24/.

Unnamed Houthi official, August 2021

Speaking at a Houthi summer camp graduation ceremony:

“We tell the world that the Yemeni youth are at the forefront of the ranks in fighting off brutal aggression. These people say no to the damned culture of the US and Israel.”Saeed Al-Batati, “Thousands of Yemeni children brainwashed in Houthi ‘summer camps,’” Arab News, August 17, 2021, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1912296/middle-east.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On September 15, 2019, a truck bomb exploded outside of the Al-Rai Hospital in Syria’s Aleppo Governorate, killing 12 civilians and injuring many more. There were no immediate claims of responsibility. 

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