Houthis, USA: no escalation with Iran. But it is already ‘regional war’: the analysis

The picture already appears clear: a low intensity conflict is underway, even if Tehran is not directly involved

The United States and the United Kingdom have struck the Houthis in Yemen. American President Joe Biden reiterates that new raids, after those on the night between 11 and 12 January 2024, are not ruled out if the militiamen continue to threaten ships in the Red Sea. Tension remains very high while Washington highlights its intention to avoid an escalation with Iran, sponsor of the Houthis, to which a clear message has however been sent.

“I have already sent the message to Iran. They know what not to do. We will make sure to respond with our allies if they continue with these senseless actions”, Biden’s words. The spokesperson of the National Security Council, John Kirby, explains to the MSNBC broadcaster that the raid was directed against the Houthis’ capabilities to store, launch and guide missiles and drones. “We don’t want an escalation, there is no reason for an escalation beyond what has happened in the last few days,” he says.

The picture, however, already appears sufficiently clear and defined. It no longer makes sense to talk about the risk of an expansion of the conflict in the Middle East, because what is being fought “is already a regional war”. This is the belief shared by analysts and observers in some of the countries affected by the crisis, while underlining that we are not yet at the worst possible scenario – direct involvement of Iran or a real conflict between Israel and Hezbollah – but at a war at a relatively low intensity.

What is Iran doing?

And this is because, sources in a country in the region explain to Adnkronos, “it’s hard to say whether Iran”head of the strategic coordination of the so-called ‘Axis of resistance’, which also includes the Houthis, “does he want an escalation or does he want to prevent it”.

“The signals it sends would go in this second direction”, if it weren’t for the fact that, according to the assessment of the regime in Tehran, it is Israel that continues to push for escalation. And in the face of “enemy aggression, Iran cannot prove passive, so as not to further encourage Israel and not to project an image of weakness”, is the analysis of the sources.

Meanwhile, retaliation is expected from the Houthis, “who have grown militarily a lot”, thanks to the sophisticated weapons supplied by Tehran and whose capabilities, as Yemeni analyst Farea al-Muslimi, research fellow at the Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme, have only been undermined in raids that he defines as only “symbolic”. The first signal arrived: a missile launched against a ship, which among other things was carrying Russian oil, and ended up hundreds of meters from the target.

The Houthis resisted for eight years the bombings of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which “failed to bring them to their knees”, underlines Gregory Johnsen, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington: according to Johnsen with the raids London and Washington , and more generally the Western allies, wanted to “send a message, but the key question is: if the message doesn’t get through, what will be the next step? Raid on more targets? Longer raids?”.

Because the Houthis will not stop

The Houthis, echoes Nadwa Dawsari, an expert at the Middle East Institute, “have been desperately waiting for 20 years for confrontation with America and with Israel. Since October 7 they have recruited 45 thousand fighters, today the United States and the United Kingdom have made their dream of a direct clash come true.

In reality, what could come even closer is a direct clash with Iran: sources in the Biden administration, whose first objective remains that of avoiding a regional war, said they had no other choice, after diplomacy , confidential contacts and threats have failed to stop the Houthi attacks in recent weeks. Behind which, they have no doubt, there is Tehran: “Iran was involved from an operational point of view. They provided information and intelligence to the Houthis and the capabilities used” in the attacks against ships in the Red Sea.