Why Yemenis shot at US ships

Written 21 October 2016

Non-interventionists in the US often like to blame American foreign policy for the tiniest of incidents, even when Americans are the victims. This was the case recently with the targeting of the USS Mason by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Progressive voices immediately blamed the US for having ships nearby, condemned the US for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia which is prosecuting a war against the Houthis, and alleged conspiracy theories that the US is trying to provoke the Houthis so that we have a pretext to intervene.

All these points are very easy to address so I will spend a paragraph doing that:

Now that has been addressed, the real reason for the targeting of the USS Mason must be discussed. This is really nothing new and a tactic that has been used for decades. The Aden Port bombing of the USS Cole had similar goals. Saddam Hussein has used similar tactics in the past in what is called the “Tanker War” during the Iran-Iraq War. Here, he would target Iranian oil assets in order to provoke Iran into closing the Strait of Hormuz, which would in turn provoke the US into intervening in favor of Iraq. The recent Houthi attack is not much different. The Houthis want to provoke the United States into directly intervening in the Yemen Civil War.

While at first glance, this seems like a ridiculous strategy seeing as how US forces would obliterate the Houthis, in reality the Houthis are seeking to play a long game. By intervening in this war, not only would the US be involved in a long guerrilla struggle in a hostile country against a determined enemy, it would also provoke the Muslim world, particularly the Shia.

In this situation, the Iranians would make a much more direct intervention of their own into this conflict, likely by sending IRGC units to train militants. By doing this, they would also likely do something far more cataclysmic, which is declaring a de facto war against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has many Shia who are disenfranchised and are becoming more restive. The Houthis want to provoke these Shia into taking up arms against the Saudi government — which is why they are also firing missiles into Saudi territory — and it is likely that the Iranians would use their assets in the country to help (as they have in the past). Therefore, the Houthis want to expand an already growing Sunni-Shia conflict which is also taking place in Syria and Iraq.

Theories alleging some sort of grand conspiracy by the “military-industrial complex” thus fall short of the realities on the ground. Lastly, it is important to remember the Houthis slogan –“God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam” — if you want to consider who the bad actor in this situation is.