MEMRI REPORT: Brief Primer on Yemen’s Iran-Backed Houthi Movement and its Attacks Against Israel and the U.S.

IranYemen | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1731


Yemen’s Ansar Allah Houthi Movement – a delisted foreign terrorist organization (FTO) – has, since October 7, launched six rounds of aerial projectiles at Israel,[1] downed a U.S. drone in Yemen,[2] captured a shipping vessel in the Red Sea,[3] and, most recently, fired ballistic missiles and drones in the vicinity of a U.S. Navy vessel.[4]

Senior Houthi officials have reiterated the movement’s intent to continue targeting U.S. and Israeli interests, despite the Israel-Hamas ceasefire, and in the face of a possible U.S. redesignation of the movement as an FTO.

“In the event [a U.S. redesignation] causes harm to the interests of our people,” Houthi deputy foreign minister Hussein Al-‘Izzi warned on X on November 25, “Then we will consider it a declaration of war and America will discover the disaster of engaging in escalation with Yemen, the graveyard of empires and the first country of attrition in history.”

The threat posed by the Houthis to conflict resolution to Gaza is thus clear and immediate. Yet, Houthi attacks in support of Hamas also threaten to derail U.S.-supported peace initiatives in the region, including the movement’s own longstanding peace process with Saudi Arabia. The attacks may also escalate conflict on a regional level.

In view of this significant Houthi threat to regional peace and stability, the following report provides a primer on the Ansar Allah Houthi Movement, including the group’s historical background, profiles of several of its key leaders, and its primary media and social media operations.

Ideology And Ties To Iran

The Ansar Allah Movement is a Zaydi Shi’ite militant organization in Yemen. Zaydi Shi’ism[5] – which differs from Twelver Shi’ism, the state religion of Iran – has a millennium-long history in Yemen’s northern highlands, but its adherents were disempowered in the country in the latter half of the 20th century.

In this context, the Houthi movement’s eponymous founder, Hussein Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, emerged as a charismatic voice for the marginalized Zaydi Shi’ites in Yemen during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In his speeches, which now comprise the core texts of Houthi ideology, Al-Houthi railed against the Yemeni Government for its relations, at that time, with the U.S, especially following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He also staged anti-American and anti-Israeli protests, with his movement at the time adopting its sarkha, or slogan: “God is great, death to the U.S., death to Israel, curse the Jews, and Victory for Islam.”

Al-Houthi’s outspoken criticism of Yemeni-U.S. relations brought him into open conflict with the Yemeni government. The government killed him and dozens of his followers in 2004. Thereafter, his followers launched a rebellion, known as the Sa’ada Wars, which lasted until 2010.

Houthis And Yemen’s Politics

Following the ouster of longstanding Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, the Houthis took part in the country’s national dialogue process to determine a post-Saleh political future. However, in 2015, the Houthis allied with Saleh, and jointly took the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, by force.

The takeover of Sana’a by Houthi-Saleh forces brought international condemnation, and a Saudi-led intervention to restore the ousted government of the Republic of Yemen. The Saudi intervention included air, land, and sea blockade of the country, as well as a bombing campaign. In 2017, Saleh announced he would severe relations with the Houthis. Days later, he was assassinated by Houthi fighters.

Since Saleh’s assassination, the Houthis have cemented their control over governance in Yemen and launched several military offensives aimed at capturing territory held by the internationally recognized Republic of Yemen Government. In April 2022, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire agreement between Yemen’s warring parties, which has largely held. Currently, the Houthis are engaged in negotiations with Saudi officials over a permanent ceasefire, which would acknowledge Houthi control of most, but not all, of Yemen.


Below are several of the most prominent political and military leaders of the Houthi Movement.

Abd Al-Malik Al-Houthi: The Banner Of Guidance

Born in 1979, Abd Al-Malik Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi is the current leader of the group. He assumed the position in September 10, 2004, succeeding his brother – Hussein Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, who was killed by the Yemeni army during a raid in Marran province.

Houthi members refer to Al-Houthi as Alam Al-Hoda, or the banner of guidance, and endow him with both spiritual as well as temporal authority over the movement.

He also delivers frequent public addresses, in which he rails against the perceived subordination of Muslims by the “Global Jewish Zionist lobby,” the U.S., and the West. For example, on September 27, 2023, Al-Houthi stated:

“The global Jewish-Zionist lobby in the world, and its arms America, Israel, some European regimes, and their allies, continues to head towards containing Muslims and infiltrating them in every way and form, culturally and intellectually, to the point of interfering in their curricula, as happens in many Arab and Islamic countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has opened the way to even deleting Quranic verses from the curricula ‘which the Jews resent,’ and amending some concepts and changing others.”[6]

Earlier, in July 2023 televised remarks about Quran burnings in Sweden, Al-Houthi blamed the “Jewish lobby” for orchestrating the events. “What the Jewish lobby is doing in Western countries in terms of burning and tearing up the Quran is the height of unbelief and an act of aggression against Islam and Muslims,” he said. He advised Western countries to “liberate themselves from the slavery of the Jews and return to the divine message” before the Jewish lobby “pushes them to the abyss, where they will reap Allah’s wrath and torment.”[7]

Al-Houthi has also threatened the United States in televised addresses. Three days after the Hamas attack on Israel, Al-Houthi warned the U.S. against direct military intervention on behalf of Israel. In an address aired on Al-Manar TV, he asserted that the Houthis are “completely coordinated with our brothers in the Jihad and resistance front.” The Houthi leader also added that they were ready to send hundreds of thousands of mujahideen to Palestine, despite the “geographical” problem they face. He threatened that if the U.S. raises its support level to Israel to begin direct military intervention, the Houthis will carry out military strikes against American targets, using rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as other military options.[8]



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EDITORS NOTE: This MEMRI column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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