- Houthis are part of Iran-backed ‘Axis of Resistance’
- The group says it has carried out three attacks against Israel so far
- Analyst: attacks so far are more of a message than a real threat
- Other Iran-backed groups have been attacking across the Middle East
DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthis have joined the war between Israel and Hamas being fought more than 1,600 kilometers from their seat of power in Sanaa, declaring on Tuesday that they had fired drones and missiles at Israel in attacks that highlight the regional risks of the conflict.
As part of an Iran-backed “Axis of Resistance,” the Houthis have rallied behind the Palestinians since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, opening a new front for a movement that has waged an eight-year war against a Saudi-led coalition in the Gulf.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a televised statement that the group had launched a “large number” of ballistic missiles and drones toward Israel, and that there would be more such attacks in the future “to help the Palestinians victory”.
His statement confirmed the widening scope of a conflict that has unsettled states such as Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, hardening fears of contagion as Israel seeks to destroy Hamas in its Gaza Strip stronghold.
Saree said it was the Houthi’s third attack on Israel since the start of the conflict, appearing to confirm that they were behind a drone attack on October 28 that caused explosions in Egypt and which Israel blamed on the Houthis, and a drone attack on October 28 that caused explosions in Egypt and was attributed by Israel to the Houthis. 19 incident in which the US Navy intercepted three cruise missiles.
Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the Houthi attacks were intolerable, but declined to elaborate when asked how Israel might respond.
The Houthis’ motto is “Death to America, death to Israel, curse to the Jews and victory to Islam.”
The Houthis are a formidable part of the “Axis of Resistance,” which opposes Israel and the United States and has been waging attacks across the region since October 7.
Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have been firing on US forces in Iraq and Syria, while Lebanon’s Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border.
The Houthis have demonstrated their missile and drone capabilities during the Yemen war in attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi-led coalition accuses Iran of arming, training and financing the Houthis. The group denies being a proxy for Iran and says it develops its own weapons.
The United States, Israel’s main ally, has deployed aircraft carriers as a deterrent to prevent the Gaza conflict from spreading. Iran has also said it does not want the war to spread.
But Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian indicated Tuesday that Tehran’s allies could act further.
“Resistance groups will not remain silent in the face of the crimes of the Zionist regime and the United States’ full support for the Zionist regime,” he said. “They will not wait for anyone’s advice; if the situation gets out of control, no party will be safe from its consequences,” he said in a meeting with the Emir of Qatar, Iranian state media reported.
Houthi spokesman Saree blamed Israel for instability in the Middle East and said the “circle of conflict” in the region was widening because of its “continued crimes.” The Houthis will continue to launch attacks “until Israeli aggression stops.”
Noting that Houthi missiles and drones had been shot down during the latest hostilities, Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said that for now their attacks were “more of a message than an actual military threat.”
“The risk for Israel would be if there was a total commitment, with multiple rocket launches from all directions that could overwhelm air defenses,” he said.
Yemen has enjoyed more than a year of relative calm amid a UN-led peace push. Saudi Arabia has been holding talks with the Houthis in a bid to exit the war, while Riyadh focuses on domestic economic priorities.
But Houthi missile and drone attacks on Israel have raised conflict risks for Saudi Arabia.
The most direct flight path for any drone or missile launched from Yemen passes over western Saudi Arabia, near the Red Sea, before flying over Jordan and entering Israel.
The Saudi government communications office did not respond to a request for comment on the kingdom’s concerns over the Houthi attacks.
Saudi analyst Aziz Alghashian said Saudi Arabia would be worried about the conflict spilling across its own borders.
“I think the problem is that this war has the potential to put Saudi Arabia in a position where it is seen as taking sides between the United States, Israel and Iran,” he said. “I think Saudi Arabia wants to avoid that.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran, the region’s leading Sunni and Shiite Arab powers, respectively, agreed to restore diplomatic relations earlier this year, easing years of tensions that have fueled conflicts across the Middle East.
In 2019, the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack that temporarily cut off more than half of Saudi oil production. The United States said Iran was behind the attack, which Tehran denied.
Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Nayera Abdallah in Dubai, Tom Perry in Beirut, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Henriette Chacar and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, and Mohamed Ghobari in Aden, writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones
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