Congressmen Search for a Strategy to Push Back on Islamic Militants in Yemen

February 14, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Congressmen Search for a Strategy to Push Back on Islamic Militants in Yemen
This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON — Foreign policy advisors tried Wednesday to help a congressional panel determine when acts of war by the Houthis have crossed a line that might trigger a much more forceful U.S. military response.

So far the U.S. response has consisted largely of striking back at Houthi missile and drone bases in Yemen, only after they attack commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Houthis are a radical Shia Islamic political and military movement based in Yemen, which borders the Red Sea.

Two witnesses during the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing said the Houthis will continue their attacks to disrupt the world trade route in the Red Sea until an overwhelming international military offensive stops them.

A third warned against the U.S. taking the bait of terrorists to get drawn into a bigger conflict, most likely emboldening sympathizers of the Houthis for a regional long-term war.

Only hours before the hearing of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, the U.S. Central Command announced that the U.S. Navy on Tuesday struck a “mobile anti-ship cruise missile” in Yemen that “was prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.”

The missile was located in “Iranian-backed Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen,” the Central Command reported, the same area where numerous missile and drone attacks were launched since last October. The missiles and drones were supplied by Iran, according to U.S. Central Command.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, several opposition factions mobilized their combatants in the Middle East.

The Houthi strategy of disrupting maritime shipments in the Red Sea has cost world economies an estimated $200 billion from ships being damaged or rerouted around the Horn of Africa, according to evidence presented at the congressional hearing. About 15% of global trade passes through the Red Sea.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., the subcommittee chairman, said he doubted any Islamic militant successes in the Middle East would remain there.

“The terrorists have many plans for us, which is very clear,” Wilson said as he advocated for stronger U.S. military action.

The plans are implied from a common slogan among Iran’s supporters, namely, “Death to America,” Wilson said.

He won agreement from Simone Ledeen, a former assistant U.S. secretary of defense, who told the lawmakers, “The United States’ timid approach towards the Iranian regime has directly encouraged Tehran’s aggression.”

Biden administration policies have led to escalated attacks by Iranian-supported militants that threaten U.S. and allied interests, she said.

“The Biden Administration’s hesitancy has placed U.S. servicemembers and crucial global trade routes at grave risk,” Ledeen said.

She recommended more direct support for political opponents of the Houthis and other Islamic militants in Yemen, Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council director for the Persian Gulf, said the current U.S. military strategy toward the Houthis “is exactly what they wanted.”

Previously a fringe group with minimal credibility in the Middle East, their recent conflicts with the U.S. military “allows them to ingratiate themselves to the larger Muslim and Arab world.”

He also recommended a more powerful U.S. military strategy, saying, “We need to push back against the Iranians everywhere.”

Jon Alterman, a vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said rather than only a military effort, the United States should give the Iranians and their supporters a choice.

Under his suggestion, if the Iranians continue their aggression, they will be met with military force. If they choose a more peaceful policy, they will receive concessions and assistance.

“I understand the attraction of the logic of asserting U.S. military power and decisively deterring our adversaries,” Alterman said. “Yet, doing so without clear forethought would actually advance Iranian goals rather than U.S. ones, and they wouldn’t do much to stabilize Yemen.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., agreed with Alterman, saying, “A successful strategy is one that exercises all the tools in our toolbox.”

He added, “Let’s be clear, calls for direct strikes on Iran are dangerous.”

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