On Thursday, the United States and the United Kingdom launched two rounds of strikes against 72 Houthi targets in Yemen – a turn of events that is unsurprising given the joint statement issued to the Houthis a week prior, which read like an ultimatum. The Houthis have attacked civilian vessels in the Red Sea 27 times since 19 November, most recently less than 24 hours before the American and British bombs started falling. John Kirby, Joe Biden’s national security spokesman, told reporters a day later on Air Force One that ‘valid, legitimate military targets’ were struck and that Washington would do what is necessary if the Houthis continued on their present course.
This isn’t the first time Washington and London have taken military action against the Houthis. Over the last several weeks, US and UK warships have shot down numerous Houthi missiles and drones. On New Year’s Eve, US helicopters even destroyed three boats seeking to attack a civilian ship, killing the Houthi militants onboard.
This latest military action, however, was far more expansive. The target set included, but was not limited to, Houthi-operated training centers and drone manufacturing sites, coastal radar sites, munitions warehouses, and even command-and-control facilities in multiple Yemeni cities. The American military carried out these attacks easily, if not flawlessly. Washington, after all, has conducted many similar strikes in Iraq and Syria since late October, even killing militia commanders.
Yet just as those strikes failed to deter additional attacks, the strikes in Yemen are unlikely to compel the Houthis to cease threatening the security of commercial shipping by treating the Red Sea as their personal firing range.
First, the Houthis have demonstrated a willingness to absorb a lot of pain. They have fought a number of wars since forming their movement in the 1990s.