Houthis’ Red Sea Attacks Not Only Motivated by Gaza

Yemen map showing major population centers as well as parts of neighboring countries and the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

“The preparation of the naval force comes in light of the enemy mercenaries’ relinquishing of national sovereignty, and their exposing the country’s sovereign oil, gas and fishery resources to unprecedented plunder…”

While recent naval attacks by Yemen’s Ansarallah group—better known as the Houthis—have been justified as being in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, Ansarallah’s build-up of capabilities to engage in an anti-access naval campaign was motivated by domestic concerns that predate Israel’s operations against Hamas in Gaza. Beginning on 19 October, Ansarallah began targeting primarily commercial vessels in the Red Sea using unmanned aerial vehicles, ballistic missiles, and anti-ship cruise missiles. The majority of these weapons were shot down by ships from the USS Gerald Ford Carrier Strike Group.[i] These attacks were concurrent with other attacks carried out by Iranian allies, all presented as in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and as part of a coordinated anti-Israel response by members of the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance”—Hezbollah in Lebanon, “Islamic Resistance” militias in Iraq, and Ansarallah in Yemen. According to the accompanying excerpt from the official Yemeni daily 26 September, Ansarallah leaders have justified their buildup of anti-ship capabilities as motivated by their adversaries “exposing the country’s sovereign oil, gas and fishery resources to unprecedented plunder” and their attempts to “expand and control the most important strategic ports and islands, such as Socotra and Mayun [also known as Perim Island].” From Ansarallah’s perspective, its domestic adversaries—both the Saudi-backed Internationally Recognized Government and the Emirati-backed Southern Transitional Council—have used the early 2022 UN-brokered truce in Yemen to tighten control over resources and strategic locations on Yemen’s coastline with foreign assistance and complicity.[ii] In August 2023, a few months before hostilities broke out in Gaza, Ansarallah officials threatened to sink two oil tankers seeking to transport Yemeni oil for export from ports in the Gulf Aden under the control of Ansarallah’s domestic opponents. Ansarallah’s position vis-à-vis Red Sea shipping prior to 7 October, per the article, was “to encourage international navigation through the [Bab El Mandab] Strait provided that it does not harm the sovereignty, unity, security or independence of the Republic.” Thus, while Ansarallah’s attacks on shipping vessels transiting Bab El Mandab are—at least rhetorically—linked to Israel’s invasion of Gaza, they should also be understood as a deliberate effort by the group to assert control over the entirety of Yemen’s territorial waters and internationalize the struggle for control of Yemen’s resources and strategic locations.


“قدرات اليمن في حماية البحار والمياه الوطنية  Yemeni capabilities for protecting national seas and waterways,” 26 September (official Yemeni daily), 25 September 2023. https://www.26sep.net/index.php/local/64705-2023-09-25-05-09-57

”We were in a raging war with two ships coming to the port of Aden to plunder Yemeni gas, and they retreated four times, most recently yesterday. We informed the companies that owned the ships ‘Sinmar Jane’ and ‘Bolivar’ that we would strike them if they entered to loot gas from the port of Aden, and they are ready to do so. A few days earlier, President Al-Mashat vowed to ‘target the military bases of the Saudi-Emirati coalition forces on the Yemeni islands.’ At that time, he concurred with the Chief of Staff of the Naval Forces and Coastal Defense, Brigadier General Mansour Ahmed Al-Saadi, ‘on the level of qualitative armament that the naval forces now possess, which enables them to confront the enemy with all merit and ability, and allows them to meet the challenges…”

The Minister of Defense, Major General Muhammad Nasser Al-Atifi, had previously confirmed that maritime security of Yemeni territorial waters would be a priority in the next stage…

The preparation of the naval force comes in light of the enemy mercenaries’ relinquishing of national sovereignty, and their exposing the country’s sovereign oil, gas and fishery resources to unprecedented plunder. Alongside this organized plunder are the occupation’s efforts to expand and control the most important strategic ports and islands, such as Socotra and Mayun. It was necessary for the Yemeni armed forces to carry out their duty to protect the territorial waters and the sovereign wealth of oil, gas and fisheries from the dangers coming from the coalition of aggressors and their mercenaries from inside and outside the country, and to prepare themselves as a deterrent weapon for all these ambitions. Regarding freedom of international navigation in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the position of the Republic of Yemen is specific and clear, which is to encourage international navigation through the Strait provided that it does not harm the sovereignty, unity, security or independence of the Republic.


[i] For details on Ansarallah’s naval arsenal, see: “A Maritime Menace: The Houthi Navy,” Oryx Blog, 2 January 2023. https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2023/01/a-maritime-menace-houthi-navy.html; “Houthis Showcase Large Arsenal Of Missiles, Drones At Sana’a Military Parade,” MEMRI, 21 September 2023. https://www.memri.org/tv/houthis-showcase-large-arsenal-missiles-drones-military-parade; “Under Fire in the Bab al-Mandab: Houthi Military Capabilities and U.S. Response Options,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 8 December 2023. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/under-fire-bab-al-mandab-houthi-military-capabilities-and-us-response-options;“Houthi anti-ship missile systems: getting better all the time,” IISS, 4 January 2024. https://www.iiss.org/online-analysis/military-balance/2024/01/houthi-anti-ship-missile-systems-getting-better-all-the-time/ For details on Ansarallah’s anti-ship ballistic missiles, see: “We Might Have Just Seen the World’s First Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Attack,” Popular Mechanics, 1 December 2023. https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a45964460/first-anti-ship-ballistic-missile-attack-houthi-rebels/

[ii] For more on control over Socotra, see: Lucas Winter, “Regional Friction Over Yemen’s Socotra Island,” OE Watch, June 2018. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-17883-00-00-00-27-93-72/2018_2D00_06_2D00_01-Regional-Friction-Over-Yemen_1920_s-Socotra-Island-_2800_Winter_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true; For more on control over Yemen’s Arabian Sea ports, see: Lucas Winter, “Saudis Seek Pathway to the Arabian Sea,” OE Watch, October 2018. https://community.apan.org/cfs-file/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-17883-00-00-00-26-69-08/2018_2D00_10_2D00_01-Saudis-Seek-Pathway-to-the-Arabian-Sea-_2800_Winter_2900_.pdf?forcedownload=true

Image Information:

Image:  Yemen map showing major population centers as well as parts of neighboring countries and the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
Source: CIA Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/yemen/map
Attribution: Public Domain

Iran Hints It Will Supply Air Defense Weaponry to Palestinians

Iraj Masjedi, a Qods Force commander and former Iranian ambassador to Iraq, meets with Qassem Soleimani, the late leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force.

“A day will come when… [Palestinians] will obtain air defense weapons.”

The advisor to the commander of the Qods Force, Iraj Masjedi, used the 3 January anniversary of the 2020 death of former Qods Force chief Qassem Soleimani to deride both the United States and Israel. The anniversary has become an annual commemoration in Iran.[i] Multiple Iranian politicians and military officers give speeches lionizing Soleimani and condemning the United States. While the Iranian population is inured to such bombast, the speech by Masjedi was noteworthy for its specificity about providing anti-air defenses to the Palestinians. In practice, support for Palestinians means support for Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hamas, both of which act as proxies for Iran.[ii] “A day will come when they [the Palestinians] will not allow bombardments by the Zionists and they will obtain air defense weapons,” he promised. Masjedi’s resume enhances the importance of his words. He was a former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general, Soleimani’s top advisor, and a former Ambassador to Iraq who today serves as a supreme advisor to the IRGC-Qods Force. If Iran can smuggle anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza, Hamas could target Israeli aircraft engaging in the Gaza fight and endanger commercial traffic servicing Ben Gurion Airport, with approach and departure routes over the West Bank.


“Sardar Masjedi: Filistiniha beh Salah Pedafandi Dast Miyaband” (General Masjedi: Palestinians to Get Defensive Weapons),” Fararu.com (nominally independent web portal close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 8 January 2024. https://fararu.com/fa/news/698061

The supreme advisor to the commander of the Qods Force [Iraj Masjedi] said that the strength of the Islamic Resistance is increasing daily. He said, “The Palestinians are fighting with rockets today, but a day will come when they will not allow bombardments by the Zionists and they will obtain air defense weapons,” he added.

Referring to America’s evils in the region, Masjedi said, “What is the commander of CENTCOM doing in Israel?” American planes are regularly sending weapons and bombs to Israel. The United States claim to stand for human rights when in fact they are the parents of terrorism.

The Americans have the largest army in the world but I tell you, they do not base one division of it in the United States itself, and instead it is spread out in the world. What are U.S. bases doing in the region? By what right are they based all over the world? Armies are responsible for maintaining their own territorial security. Where in the world do the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran Army have military bases? In this situation, the Americans tell others that Iran is interfering in the world, but this is very shameful.

He also referred to the weakness of the Israeli army in confronting the Palestinian resistance, saying that the Israelis have a special force called the Golani Brigade, which is considered to be a special force to deal with the Palestinians, but this brigade was so badly hit by the resistance forces that it was ordered to withdraw and the other five brigades of the Israel Defense Forces were forced to withdraw.The Supreme Advisor to the commander of the Qods Force also emphasized that the regional resistance forces with the support of the Iranian resistance force will break the hands of the enemies.


[i] Against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war, this year’s commemorations of Soleimani’s death stretched on for a week with senior political and military  officials including, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, making statements testifying to Soleimani’s embodiment of the revolutionary values Iran seeks to espouse.

[ii] Iran initially embraced late Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization, the Iranian regime began to shift its support to Hamas following Arafat’s decision to begin negotiating with Israel at the end of the Reagan administration and largely broke with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority it dominated following the Oslo Accords. For an earlier discussion of Iran’s concept of strategic boundaries extending to its west, see: Michael Rubin, “Khamenei Speaks On Necessity Of Palestinian ‘Resistance,’” OE Watch, 06-2022. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2022/khamenei-speaks-on-necessity-of-palestinian-resistance/

Image Information:

Image: Iraj Masjedi, a Qods Force commander and former Iranian ambassador to Iraq, meets with Qassem Soleimani, the late leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force. Source: https://jamejamonline.ir/files/fa/news/1402/10/13/1064448_573.jpg
Attribution: Jamejamonline.ir

Fears of Gaza Violence Prompt Egypt To Reinforce the Sinai Border

Map of Egypt showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

“Threats [to Egypt] usually come from the east, and Gaza is Egypt’s first line of defense…”

Egypt has turned its strategic focus toward its eastern border amidst rising concerns that violence from Israel’s military operation in Gaza could spill over into the Sinai Peninsula. Most concerning to Egypt’s military-led government is the potential of a massive influx of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai.[i] The Egyptian military, according to the first accompanying excerpt from the Qatar-aligned daily al-Araby al-Jadeed, is firmly opposed to any relocation of Gaza’s residents to the Sinai. Reflecting these principles, Egyptian President Sisi has stated that “Egypt has not and will never allow the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai.”[ii] A secondary security concern for Egypt’s Armed Forces is cross-border fire from errant projectiles from both sides of the conflict.[iii] As a result of these concerns, Egypt has begun to quietly take precautions. It has increased its military and security presence around the Rafah border crossing.[iv] In late October, Egyptian military leadership conducted a readiness inspection of the Armed Forces’ 4th Armored Division, 3rd Field Army, based in Suez.[v] Military and security measures alone, however, are unlikely to ease the mounting pressure on Egypt’s border with Gaza. The second accompanying excerpt, also from al-Araby al-Jadeed, argues that Egypt will need to overhaul its strategic thinking to cope with these pressures. To do so, the author argues, the Egyptian government should provide immediate, open support for Hamas via all means possible short of war. In addition, he argues that Egypt should begin to “coordinate positions as closely as possible and share concerns and capabilities with Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan.”


مخططات تهجير الفلسطينيين إلى سيناء… رفض مصري ممتد لعقود

“Decades-long Egyptian rejection of plans to forcibly relocate Palestinians to Sinai,” Al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 2 November 2023.https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/مخططات-تهجير-الفلسطينيين-إلى-سيناء-رفض-مصري-ممتد-لعقود

Despite these fears, this plan still depends on many factors in order to implement it, “some of which are almost impossible,” according to the description of a former Egyptian security official, who spoke to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on condition of anonymity. On top of these factors is “the position of the Egyptian military establishment, which absolutely rejects the idea of ​​settling Palestinians in Sinai , due to many considerations related to Egyptian national security.”

The former official added, “The army’s rejection of that idea existed previously, during the era of the late President Hosni Mubarak, and it still exists today, which can be seen in the messages conveyed in President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s recent speeches, which seemed to be directed to the armed forces in order to reassure its leaders and allay their fears.”

لماذا على مصر التفكير في أمنها القومي بشكل مختلف؟

“Why should Egypt think about its national security in a different way?” Al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 12 November 2023. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/opinion/لماذا-على-مصر-التفكير-في-أمنها-القومي-بشكل-مختلف

… Egyptian national security theory and its constants, or what remains of those constants, the most important of which is that threats usually come from the east, and Gaza is Egypt’s first line of defense, and that whenever Gaza collapses, Egypt’s defensive lines collapse, regardless of the degree of compatibility with the political or administrative system in power following the collapse…

The Egyptian government must immediately stop talking about more than meager aid, as after a month of aggression, no more people entered the Gaza Strip than they did one day before. It must restrain the “Samsung media”, as this is a major national security issue and a top priority, and this is not the time to export hatred for the Palestinian resistance and belittle it, nor the time to outbid it, condemn it, or blame the victims in any way. Rather, it is the best piece of chess through which everything you want can be achieved. Without a single concession. Egypt should coordinate positions as closely as possible and share concerns and capabilities with Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan.


[i] The idea of a population transfer from Gaza to the Sinai is not new and has been floated several times before. Since 7 October, several Israeli statements and documents have alluded to the forcible displacement of Gaza’s population as a policy option. See for instance: “An Israeli ministry, in a ‘concept paper,’ proposes transferring Gaza civilians to Egypt’s Sinai,” AP, 30 October 2023. https://apnews.com/article/israel-gaza-population-transfer-hamas-egypt-palestinians-refugees-5f99378c0af6aca183a90c631fa4da5a; Giora Eiland. “It’s time to rip off the Hamas band-aid,” Ynet News, 12 October 2023. https://www.ynetnews.com/article/sju3uabba

[ii] Statement quoted in: “Defend and populate Sinai,” al-Ahram Weekly, 31 October 2023. https://english.ahram.org.eg/News/511373.aspx

[iii] This includes projectiles fired toward Israel from the south that have landed along the Sinai’s Red Sea coast, as well as cross-border Israeli fire that hit an Egyptian border guard post near Gaza. On the former, see: “Drone blasts hit two Egyptian Red Sea towns, Israel points to Houthi,” AP, 27 October 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/explosion-heard-egyptian-red-sea-town-near-israeli-border-witness-2023-10-27/ On the latter, see: “At least seven injured as Israeli tank ‘accidentally’ hits Egyptian border,” al-Jazeera, 22 October 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/22/at-least-seven-injured-as-israeli-tank-accidentally-hits-egyptian-border

[iv] Images of Egyptian special forces deployed in Rafah can be found at: https://twitter.com/mahmouedgamal44/status/1715623393909694745

[v] The inspection included the first official appearance of the South Korean K9A1 155 mm self-propelled howitzer in the Egyptian military.  For images and description of the platforms involved see: https://twitter.com/mahmouedgamal44/status/1717074441501290762.

Image Information:

Image: Map of Egypt showing major cities as well as parts of surrounding countries and the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
Source: CIA Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/egypt/map Attribution: Public Domain

Iran Unveils New Thermobaric Warhead

An Iranian Fajr-5 rocket launch, February 6, 2017

An Iranian Fajr-5 rocket launch, February 6, 2017.

“Fajr-5 missiles…are now equipped with a new warhead with greater destructive power.”

Iran has long been an indigenously equipped military power,[i] and the Iranian press seemingly announces new weapons every few weeks. However, these announcements are often exaggerations As not every prototype makes it into the arsenals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or the regular army. Those that do are apparent on the battlefield and across the broader region: Mohajer[GRLCUT(1]  and Ababil [GRLCUT(2] drones,[ii] Moudge-class destroyers, and Fateh-110 [RG3] and Fajr-5 missiles, for example. The Fajr-5 missile is an IRGC staple, which[iii] Tehran has acknowledged giving to U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups. In 2012, a Fajr-5 fired by Hamas hit on an apartment building just outside Tel Aviv.  It is against this backdrop that reports like the accompanying article from IRGC news affiliate Tasnim News Agency, about a new, upgraded warhead for the Fajr-5 are notable. While Iranian press discussion focuses on the thermobaric warhead’s potential for Iran’s own counterterror fight, presumably against Kurdish and Baluchi separatists (respectively located in the country’s rugged northwest and southeast border regions), regional states and actors should assume that the IRGC will not limit a new thermobaric warhead solely to use in its domestic arsenal. Discussion of warhead stability also implies safer shipping and handling by groups less well-trained than the Iranian military. Should reports about the thermobaric warhead be accurate, a greater blast radius like that produced by the new thermobaric warhead, especially when fired against urban targets, will increase damage and lower the threshold for retaliation.


“Roketha-ye Fajr-5 Sepah Termobaric Shod (Revolutionary Guards’ Fajr-5 Rockets are now Thermobaric),” Tasnim News Agency (news agency affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), 8 May 2023. https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1402/02/17/2887806

…The test of the new type of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s Fajr-5 rocket equipped with thermobaric warhead has been successfully completed. The IRGC’s 333-mm Fajr-5 missiles, which had previously been delivered to the force as the Fajr-5C rocket, are now equipped with a new warhead with greater destructive power. This new warhead, produced by specialists of the IRGC’s Ground Force’s Self-Sufficiency Research and Jihad, has an explosive power of 1.5 times that of TNT, resulting in a greater radius of destruction and thermal effects. In addition, its lower sensitivity compared with TNT makes it safer to use than conventional warheads.

…When this type of ammunition explodes in the indoor space of underground bunkers or trenches, its destructive pressure stays in the shelter’s enclosed space for longer and causes more destruction, and thus is an efficient weapon for clearing fortifications and trenches….This new type of combat head for these rockets, due to their specific type of performance, is also a suitable weapon to deal with terrorist groups, especially in mountainous and difficult areas because these groups create shelters and strongholds in these areas using natural effects or engineering measures.


[i] While many of Iran’s neighbors purchase off-the-shelf platforms and weaponry from the global arms market, the isolation Iran suffered during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War changed Iran’s strategic doctrine to favor production rather than acquisition of armaments. For more information, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: Domestic Weapons Production Up 69 Percent,” OE Watch, March 2017. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195239/download

[ii] For previous reporting on Fajr-5 development, see: Michael Rubin, “Iran: IRGC Debuts New Explosive Plant,” OE Watch, July 2016. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-past-issues/195435

[iii] For background, see: Michael Rubin, “A Short History of the Iranian Drone Program,” American Enterprise Institute, 26 August 2020. https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/a-short-history-of-the-iranian-drone-program/

Image Information:

Image: An Iranian Fajr-5 rocket launch, February 6, 2017
Source: https://newsmedia.tasnimnews.com/Tasnim/Uploaded/Image/1395/11/18/139511181130493069920644.jpg
Attribution: Tasnim News Agency