Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 4 December 2023


About Those Non-Terrorist Houthis

A U.S. warship is forced to defend itself against Iran’s Yemen militia, another failure of Biden Administration deterrence.

Dec. 3, 2023 6:15 pm ET

Houthi fighters march during a military parade, Sanaa, Yeme, Dec. 2. PHOTO: OSAMAH YAHYA/ZUMA PRESS

Iran’s proxies continue to threaten U.S. assets in the Middle East, and the latest effort comes from the Houthi militia in Yemen. On Sunday the Houthis opened fire on commercial ships in the Red Sea, and a U.S. warship had to respond in self-defense.

U.S. Central Command said in a tweet on Sunday that the USS Carney responded to distress calls from commercial ships, while tracking attacks on three different commercial vessels. The Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, shot down two drones in self-defense. No one was injured.


The Associated Press reported that a Houthi spokesman took credit for the attack and said the militia will “continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red Sea (and Gulf of Aden) until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops.” The Houthi spokesman didn’t mention the role of a U.S. warship, but you can bet it knows who shot down the drones.

The Houthis, who count on Iran for weapons and training, would never undertake these attacks without the tacit or explicit approval of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It’s part of Iran’s proxy campaign to harass allies of Israel, including U.S. troops.

Readers may recall that soon after taking office the Biden Administration took the Houthis off the U.S. list of foreign terror organizations. That was part of the White House courtship of Iran, and we can now see how that turned out. White House spokesman John Kirby said recently the U.S. might return the Houthis to the terror list. If the purpose of that warning was to deter the Houthis from further attacks on U.S. or allied ships, it appears to have failed.

The Houthis pose a significant threat to crucial Red Sea shipping lanes. Sooner or later one of its missiles may sink a commercial ship, and perhaps even harm American sailors. This marks another failure of deterrence by the Biden Administration. It is reluctant to strike with anything but a token response to Iranian proxy forces for fear of escalation that could spread the Hamas-Israel war throughout the Middle East. But it’s getting the escalation anyway, and Iran is at the heart of it all.

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