Who are the Houthis, and why are they attacking ships in the Red Sea?

A U.S.-led coalition struck Houthi positions in Yemen in response to the attacks

Newly recruited members of the Houthis' popular army hold up weapons during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen. (Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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Houthi militants in Yemen have attacked ships traversing the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways — leading the United States and Britain to launch strikes against the Iran-aligned group in a dramatic escalation of conflict in the Middle East.

Since Israel declared war against Hamas in retaliation for the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 cross-border attack, the Iran-backed Houthis have used their base in northern Yemen to fire missiles and drones at several ships transiting the Red Sea. The attacks have drawn the ire of the United States, Britain and other countries that want to maintain shipping in the Red Sea and access to the Suez Canal.

U.S.-led coalition strikes Iran-aligned Houthi militants in Yemen

A military coalition led by the United States struck Houthi positions in Yemen this week in response to the attacks, after the militants ignored warnings that the coalition would retaliate. Houthis, protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, say they are attacking Israel-linked vessels or those destined for Israel’s ports.

The Houthis have said the U.S.-U.K. operations would not deter them. Analysts said the assault played into the hands of the group, whose standing in the region has been enhanced. The United Nations’ special envoy to Yemen called for “maximum restraint” after the strikes, urging the countries to de-escalate.