The U.S. and U.K. launched airstrikes on Yemen on Thursday in a major escalation of tensions in the Middle East amid Israel’s controversial U.S.-backed military operation in the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

The strikes targeted the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, among other areas in the country. HuffPost first reported on Thursday that the Biden administration had made a decision to launch attacks targeting Yemen’s Houthi militia and that it had informed Congress of its plan.

The administration briefed leaders on Capitol Hill in the afternoon, a U.S. official told HuffPost.

President Joe Biden and his team view the strike as a “defensive” way to pressure the Houthis to end the campaign against international shipping that they launched over frustration with the situation in Gaza. “There is no intent to escalate the situation… . The aim is to degrade the ability of the Houthis to continue carrying out these reckless attacks,” a senior administration official told reporters in a Thursday night conference call. On the same call, a senior military official claimed “targets were very specifically selected for minimizing the risk of collateral damage.”

But many experts, including national security officials, are doubtful the move will truly prevent a spiraling conflict, warning that it will anger the Houthis further and entangle the U.S. and its allies in an increasingly terrifying cycle of tit-for-tat violence.

The airstrikes “will not solve the problem,” and the approach “doesn’t add up to a cohesive strategy,” the U.S. official told HuffPost.

Analyst Hisham Al-Omeisy of the European Institute of Peace wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “If you think Houthis will back down, you obviously haven’t been paying attention. Limited strikes or not, this will further galvanize, radicalize, and bolster [their] recruitment drive.”

Prior to the strikes, noted Yemen analyst and former United Nations expert Gregory Johnsen argued on X, formerly Twitter: “A lot of what is happening today reminds me of the build-up to Saudi Arabia going into Yemen to fight the Houthis in 2015. Saudi Arabia thought the air war would last ‘six weeks.’ It is 2024 and the war is still ongoing.”

The prolonged U.S.-backed, Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis involved scores of alleged war crimes, and created a situation seen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Thomas Juneau, a University of Ottawa professor and former Canadian defense official, warned on X that the U.S. move would likely spur significant blowback.

“You have to anticipate for a wide range of Houthi retaliation scenarios, including on U.S. military infrastructure in the Persian Gulf,” Juneau wrote.

Foreign policy watchers and U.S. and allied officials have been deeply worried about costly and dangerous fighting across the region, citing widespread anger over Israel’s Gaza operation, Western military responses and Israel’s own apparent interest in a larger war.

Observers believe the fighting could spread in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, and even pull in Iran, a regional heavyweight that supports the Houthis and a network of other militias.

The senior administration official disputed the idea that the Houthis are primarily motivated by concern for Gaza, saying many of their targets are not tied to Israel. Yet that will be a tough sell publicly, former State Department attorney Brian Finucane told HuffPost: “It’s extremely disingenuous for the administration to pretend that there’s not a connection between the conflict in Gaza, U.S. backing for the conflict in Gaza and the broader regional escalation we’ve seen.”

“To acknowledge that factual premise is in no way to accept the legitimacy of any of these actions by the Houthis or the so-called Islamic resistance of Iraq and Syria,” continued Finucane, who is now with the International Crisis Group.

While the Biden administration has repeatedly said it does not want to see a large-scale conflict, it has not taken tangible steps to alter Israel’s campaign ― which Israel began in order to punish Gaza-based militants, chiefly the Palestinian group Hamas, for an Oct. 7 shock attack ― and it has repeatedly authorized U.S. strikes against Iran-linked targets.

On Wednesday, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi warned that his group was ready for a serious fight, saying: “We are comfortable with a direct confrontation with the Americans.”

Bahrain, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands supported the Thursday strike, per a statement from Biden. Many governments close to Washington have been wary of a spiraling battle involving Yemen, and Bahrain was the only Arab state to join a U.S. naval effort to deter Houthi attacks on shipping.

The Yemen strike will likely bolster mounting anger in Congress with Biden’s resistance to reassessing his Gaza policy and his Mideast strategy generally.

Lawmakers, including some Republicans, publicly questioned the legal grounds for the decision and the risk of a major conflagration.

Most Democrats dislike the Houthis and Iran’s network of anti-U.S. forces yet are unwilling to see Washington launch another large-scale war in the region, and they are growing impatient with the lack of a plan for defusing tensions.

A telling statement from Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), the top House Democrat working on foreign policy, offered clues to how many legislators in his party likely feel.

“While I support these targeted, proportional military strikes, I call on the Biden administration to continue its diplomatic efforts to avoid escalation to a broader regional war and continue to engage Congress on the details of its strategy and legal basis as required by law,” Meeks said.

Finucane drew a contrast between the tack Biden has chosen and that of President George W. Bush, whose 2003 invasion of Iraq is often cited by Biden and his team as representing the type of overreaching, counterproductive U.S. policy they want to avoid. Like Bush, Biden has cobbled together “a coalition of the willing” for his policy, Finucane said, but Bush “at least went to Congress and got authorization for his Middle East misadventure.”

Capitol Hill will see its first major chance to vote on the direction of Biden’s approach on Tuesday evening, when the Senate is scheduled to take up a proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to look into Israel’s campaign in Gaza and request a State Department report on its human rights practices.

The United Nations Security Council is also scheduled to discuss both Gaza and Yemen on Friday.


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