The possible scenarios of the once hypothetical escalation of the Palestinian conflict have already dramatically emerged, materialising in a chain reaction of events that is deeply shaking the Middle East. The recent involvement of Yemen testifies to the propagation of uprisings that move like seismic waves from the epicentre of the conflict, destabilising already precarious balances.
To follow the latest update on the escalating conflict, it is necessary to take a step back and summarise the recent hasty events. Three days ago, US and British naval forces shot down the largest Houthi attack on international sea lanes in the Red Sea (Reuters).
The Iranian-backed Houthis, who have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2014, claimed the strike as an active protest to oppose Israel’s genocide in Gaza.
In response to numerous attacks by the Houthis, The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on maritime security, calling for a cessation of hostilities. The resolution was approved with 11 votes in favour and abstentions by Russia, China, Algeria and Mozambique. Despite having been proposed by the US and Japan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British Defence Minister Grant Shapps already hinted that the two countries would respond to the offensive (Nyt).
And so, in this turmoil of hostilities, when US and British forces launched a series of bombing raids on Yemen in the night, hitting a dozen sites used by the Houthi rebels as bases, the counter offensive was presented as a move literally anticipated by the media and institutional warnings, the only possible way to protect international shipping, stating that whoever interfere with such interest must face such severe consequences.
However, serious intervention by US and UK forces in the conflict remained unlikely; it is the first direct military action of the year, within a year of conflict, diplomatic interventions, reactions, threats, sanctions.
Action was presented as inevitable (or almost inevitable) since the Houthi continue to challenge maritime traffic in the Red Sea, leading to serious economic consequences. The militia has always maintained that it only targets shipping linked to Israel, an involvement in support of Hamas.
Was it an effective response to the Yemenite threat? In economic terms, the repercussions are global: many companies decided to abandon the route. Red Sea trade has already plummeted by 30% and the price of oil has risen by 4%.
Was it an unconscionable move to risk a new front widening the conflict? Yemen’s Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi threatened that all US and UK interests have become 'legitimate targets', clarifying also that they will keep targeting Israel.
And his position remained the same even in the light of the new attacks launched in the night between 12-13 January by US forces. Both the capital Sanaa and a radar installation in the country were reportedly hit with the aim of limiting the Houthi’s ability to target ships transiting the Red Sea, and of completing the bombing operations that began on Friday. Notably, with the threat that in case of response by the Houthi, there will be other repercussions.
Since it could be said that a new front and a new level of the conflict has been reached territorially, international public opinion has translated the recent developments into numerous reactions. Mainly, however, the focus is on Iran.
Iran, which is considered not only one of the main allies but also one of the major arms suppliers of the Houthis, has been considered a sort of indirect target in a game of provocation on the razor’s edge. Since the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War and the capture of the capital Sanaa in 2014, Iran has been considered the largest ally of the Shiite group in Yemen.
The link between Iran and the Houthis is not a common Shiite faith, as is often implied in Western media. Yemen's instability has opened an attractive door for Iran to build influence in weak politics, with the aim of positioning itself as an indispensable regional power, opposing both its regional rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the regional presence of the United States.
The Iranian reaction to the rising tensions in the area was not long in coming. While continuing to argue that it does not want to be directly involved in the conflict, in a climate of popular protests in support of the Houthis, Iran has condemned the arbitrary attacks by the US and the UK in the Red Sea.
According to Al-Jazeera, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Nasser Kanaani called the intervention a threat to Yemeni state sovereignty. Furthermore, in agreement with Turkey, Jordan, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, the basis for this action is to be found in Western alignment and support for Israel.
What does Yemen's involvement in the conflict tell us? The widening of the conflict comes in an international context of sharper stances and more defined alignments regarding the geopolitical inclinations of the powers involved in the area. In particular, the explosion of tensions in Yemen coincided with Israel’s commitment to defending itself against the accusations of genocide made by South Africa before the Hague Court.
Leading this judicial battle is South Africa, the country that defeated apartheid. This is an unprecedented moment: Israel, which since the outbreak of the conflict has almost always enjoyed the support of Western governments and media, which founded its national identity on the painful memory of the genocide of the Jews, finds itself having to answer to the world for the very same accusation against Palestinian civilians.
This could be seen as a turning point with regard to the media impact of the war in Palestine. In this new counter rhetoric, South Africa and Yemen are portrayed as active opponents of the Palestinian genocide.
One might ask, then, why Yemen's active support for Gaza was immediately met with a military response by Western governments and portrayed as the dramatic and expected epilogue to the widening of the conflict, while little emphasis was placed, apart from timid appeals and mild condemnations, on the already widespread conflict, with the numerous targets under attack in Syria and Lebanon.
The war between Israel and Palestine has already widened, it remains to be seen to what extent the newly opened outbreak in Yemen should be of long-term concern.
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