Who are Yemen's Houthis?
Iran is widely accused of backing the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. The Houthis took control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa (left) in September 2014 and continued on towards Aden, Yemen's largest city. In response to Houthi advances, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states launched a military campaign in March 2015. Yemeni officials and Sunni states, most notably Saudi Arabia, have repeatedly alleged that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have provided arms, training, and financial support to the Houthis. But Iranian and Hezbollah officials have denied or downplayed the claims.
Updated May 29, 2018
Iran is widely accused of backing the Houthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. The Houthis took control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa (left) in September 2014 and continued on towards Aden, Yemen's largest city. In response to Houthi advances, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states launched a military campaign in March 2015. Yemeni officials and Sunni states, most notably Saudi Arabia, have repeatedly alleged that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have provided arms, training, and financial support to the Houthis. But Iranian and Hezbollah officials have denied or downplayed the claims. In November 2017, Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari said that “Iran’s assistance is at the level of advisory and spiritual support.”
Tensions between Sunni states and Iran, specifically Saudi Arabia, escalated on November 4, 2017, when Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, the first time a Houthi missile had come so close to the capital. The Saudi Defense Ministry said it intercepted the missile. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir called the attack an act of war by Iran. "It was an Iranian missile, launched by Hezbollah, from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen," he said. U.S. President Donald Trump also accused the Islamic Republic. “A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia…and our system knocked the missile out of the air,” he said. Tehran rebuffed the claims as “false, irresponsible, destructive and provocative.” In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah refuted allegations of the group’s involvement as “silly” and “completely baseless.” In response, Saudi Arabia imposed a near-total blockade on Yemen.
The leader of Yemen's Houthi rebels Abdul Malek al-Houthi has hailed the reported death of ex-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as a "great and significant occasion". In a speech aired live on Al-Masirah TV, al-Houthi said his forces had thwarted a "conspiracy". pic.twitter.com/Sk2pavvTGd
— BBC Monitoring (@BBCMonitoring) December 4, 2017
The situation further deteriorated when the Houthis killed ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh on December 4, 2017. Saleh had officially aligned with the Houthis in May 2015, helping the Houthis gain control over much of northern Yemen. But the alliance was shaky at best. In August, one of Saleh’s top advisers was shot and killed following a confrontation with the Houthis. On December 2, Saleh publicly split from the Houthis, seeking a “new page” with the Saudi-led coalition. “I call upon the brothers in neighboring states and the alliance to stop their aggression, lift the siege, open the airports and allow food aid and the saving of the wounded and we will turn a new page by virtue of our neighborliness,” he said. Two days later he was killed by Houthi rebels in a roadside ambush.
Iranian officials celebrated Saleh’s death. Ali Akbar Salehi, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said Saleh got what he deserved, according to the Middle East Institute. Senior advisor Ali Akbar Velayti commented on the Yemeni people’s control over their own future. “Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed and United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia conspiracy was foiled by the people of Yemen. The people will determine their own fate and they will win like the people of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon,” he said.
The following is an overview of the Houthi movement, including its origins, religious inspiration and alleged links to Iran.
Where are the Houthis from? What role have they played in Yemen's history?
The Houthis are a large clan originating from Yemen’s northwestern Saada province. They practice the Zaydi form of Shiism. Zaydis make up around 35 percent of Yemen’s population.
A Zaydi imamate ruled Yemen for 1,000 years, before being overthrown in 1962. Since then, the Zaydis – stripped of their political power – have struggled to restore their authority and influence in Yemen. In the 1980s, the Houthi clan began a movement to revive Zaydi traditions, feeling threatened by state-funded Salafist preachers who established a base in Houthi areas. Not all Zaydis, however, align with the Houthi movement.
Houthi insurgents have clashed with Yemen’s government for more than a decade. Since 2011, the Houthi movement has expanded beyond its Zaydi roots and become a wider movement opposed to President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. The insurgents have also begun referring to themselves as Ansarullah, or “Party of God.”
How does Zaydism compare to the type of Shiism practiced in Iran?
Like other Shiites, Zaydis believe that only descendants of the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, have the right to lead the Muslim community as imams - divinely-appointed successors of the Prophet. Most adherents of Zaydism reside in Yemen, and Zaydis make up around eight percent of the world’s 70 million Shiites.
But the Zaydis are distinct from the “Twelver” form of Shiism practiced by the majority of the world’s Shiites, including most Shiites in Iran. Twelver Shiites believe the twelfth imam, whom they consider infallible, disappeared in 874AD and will one day return to usher in an age of justice as the Mahdi, or promised one. In the Mahdi’s absence, Twelver Shiites believe clerics can substitute for his authority on certain issues. The faithful are obliged to obey the clerics’ religious rulings, a power transferred to Iran’s theocracy after the 1979 revolution.
Zaydis, also known as “Fivers,” believe that Zayd, the great-grandson of Ali, was the rightful fifth imam. But Twelver Shiites consider Zayd’s brother, Mohammad al Baqir, the fifth imam. The Zaydis do not recognize the later Twelver imams, and instead believe anyone related to Ali is eligible to lead the Muslim community. They also reject the Twelver doctrine that the imam is infallible.
Who is supporting the Houthis? How?
Iranian officials have supported the Houthis’ cause and compared the group to Hezbollah. “Iran supports the rightful struggles of Ansarullah in Yemen and considers this movement as part of the successful Islamic Awakening movements,” Ali Akbar Velayati, senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in October 2014. But Tehran has repeatedly denied providing arms, funds or training to the Houthis.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) May 6, 2015
Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of arming the Houthis to fight a proxy war. “We are worried about…the tendencies of Iran in the region, which is one of the leading elements implanting instability in the region,” the late Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al Faisal, said in 2015.
In October 2016, a U.S. admiral said that U.S. Navy and allied nations’ warships had intercepted five weapons shipments from Iran to the Arabian Peninsula since April 2015. The shipments reportedly included anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and thousands of AK-47 automatic rifles. “These accusations are totally false,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi (left) said in response.
In April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Iran supports the Houthis’ “attempted overthrow of the government by providing military equipment, funding, and training, thus threatening Saudi Arabia’s southern border.” In November 2017, however, Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari claimed that “Iran’s assistance is at the level of advisory and spiritual support.”
Tensions over Iranian support of the Houthis escalated in late 2017. In November, Saudi Arabia charged Iran with an act of war for a missile fired at the Saudi capital by the Houthis in Yemen. Iran denied any links to the attack. But remnants of four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis on May 19, July 22, July 26 and November 4, 2017 appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, according to a confidential U.N. report from November 2017.
"The United States welcomes this report, as should every nation concerned about Iranian expansion," U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on December 14, in front of the remains of a missile allegedly fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia. "It was made in Iran, then sent to Houthi militants in Yemen. From there it was fired at a civilian airport, with the potential to kill hundreds of innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia."
Iranian officials and Houthi leaders denied U.S. claims. "After three years of war, America suddenly finds evidence that Iran supports the Houthis," a Yemeni spokesman said, according to Reuters. "America did not find any evidence in all the missiles fired from Yemen until now. The story is clear. They want to give Arabs a story to divert their attention from Jerusalem. Instead being angry at Israel, they wave the Iranian boy," he added.
While #Iran has been calling for ceasefire, aid and dialogue in #Yemen from day 1, US has sold weapons enabling its allies to kill civilians and impose famine. No amount of alternative facts or alternative evidence covers up US complicity in war crimes. (https://t.co/VALDSWgMUv) pic.twitter.com/7fkbIJs9MA
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 15, 2017
Fact sheet on why alternative facts and alternative evidence have no place in international relations: https://t.co/VALDSWgMUv
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 15, 2017
On the very day US regurgitates Saudi & Emirati propaganda on #Yemen, #CAR report confirms US & Saudi weapons end up in the hands of ISIS. With this U.S. administration, it seems hypocrisy knows no bounds. https://t.co/Gf7kAwieTE
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 15, 2017
On December 21, the U.S. State Department echoed Haley's allegations. "There is a very key relationship between the Iranians and the Houthis," Tim Lenderking, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, said. "I don’t want to overstate it. I don’t want to suggest that the Houthis operate entirely at the behest of the Iranians. But it’s an important relationship and one that the Iranians are able to exploit." Lenderking encouraged reporters to visit the display of missile remains and other military equipment that Haley highlighted the previous week.
In January, a U.N. report concluded Iran had violated an arms embargo by failing to prevent the Houthis from obtaining Iranian missiles. Iran did not comment on the U.N. panel report, but Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif denied U.S. claims of Tehran's missile support once again in a series of tweets in late January 2018.
A while ago US showed a Saudi-supplied Iranian missile intact. They must've been told a missile destroyed by a Patriot does not land fully assembled. So now US shows UNSC missile fragments w/ Iranian Standard Institute logo, as on our foodstuffs. Try fabricating "evidence" again. pic.twitter.com/pZ3jsLVxne
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 30, 2018
ICYMI: I re-posted my last night's Tweet that was accidentally deleted.#ISIRI seal is a measure of quality for Iranian consumer goods. But sadly for Trump & Co, we don't put it on missile parts. Time for some to do a better job of fabricating.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 30, 2018
Less than two weeks later, however, Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam met with Zarif in Tehran. Abdul Salam updated Zarif on the current conditions in Yemen. Zarif outlined Iran's four-point peace plan for Yemen and stressed the need for an immediate end to the war. He also called for the immediate shipment of humanitarian aid to Yemeni civilians.
— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) February 10, 2018
In mid-February, the United States, Britain, and France drafted a UN resolution that condemned Iran for violating the Yemen arms embargo by failing to prevent the Houthis from obtaining Iranian missiles. Russia vetoed the resolution.
Russia vetoed a UN draft resolution on Monday that would have linked Iran with the transfer of Iranian-made arms to Houthi militias in Yemen https://t.co/2xRcOdowji
— CNN (@CNN) February 27, 2018
The Houthis stepped up their attacks on Saudi Arabia in the following months. In late March, the rebels fired seven missiles at Saudi Arabia in one night and resulted in the of an Egyptian resident. A few weeks later, they struck a Saudi oil tanker in international waters west of Yemen's Hodeidah port.
A mid-April missile targeting the Saudi capital Riyadh prompted a U.S. response. The State Department condemned the attack and blamed Iran for its alleged Houthi support. "We support the right of our Saudi partners to defend their borders against these threats, which are fueled by the Iranian regime’s dangerous proliferation of weapons and destabilizing activities in the region," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
The United States strongly condemns today’s #Houthi missile attack on #Riyadh. We support the right of our #Saudi partners to defend their borders, and continue to call on all parties to return to @UN-facilitated political negotiations and move toward ending the war in #Yemen. pic.twitter.com/yu1NamGvN4
— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) April 11, 2018
On a late April visit to New York, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the United States of fabricating evidence related to the displayed missile parts recovered from Saudi Arabia. One featured logo was from the Standard Institute of Iran, which regulates consumer goods, not weapons, Zarif told the Associated Press. “It’s a sign of quality,” Zarif said. “When people want to buy it, they look at whether it’s been tested by the Standard Institute of Iran that your cheese puffs are good, your cheese puffs will not give you a stomach ache. I mean, nobody will put the logo of the Standard Institute of Iran on a piece of missile.”
The Houthis have other sources of support, however. They have reportedly received funding from local supporters and sympathetic charities as well as from illegal trade.
What are the Houthis' political views?
The Houthis do not promote a coherent ideology, and their political platform is vague and contradictory. The original Houthi insurgents desired to imitate Hezbollah, to have power without actually ruling. “The Houthis have always been on the outside. They've been a militia group that's now starting to dabble in politics,” Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, who studied and lived in the country for years, told NPR’s “Fresh Air” in April 2015. “And they don't really know how to rule.” The Houthi emblem (left) only offers a broad view of the group’s views. It is made of up entirely of the following phrases, “God is great, Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews, victory to Islam.” But the Houthis’ Hezbollah-like denunciation of the United States and Israel often seems “largely for show,” according to Les Campbell at the National Democratic Institute. Their ties to former president Saleh threaten to expose the group as “just another group sharing in the spoils of corruption.” The Houthis’ Zaydi roots do not necessarily dictate their approach to politics. Their leaders have claimed they are not attempting to revive the Zaydi imamate, but rather to seek greater political inclusion. Since 2011, they have used nationalist and populist language in their messaging rather than framing themselves as a strictly Zaydi movement. And they have cultivated a range of Sunni political allies. The Houthis participated in the U.N.-sponsored National Dialogue Conference from 2013 to 2014. While they did not reject the reform agenda in principle, the Houthis opposed proposals to convert Yemen into a six-region federalist state. The proposal would link Saada with Sanaa, but the Houthis want Saada to be its own autonomous region.
What are the roots of the Houthis' conflict with the central government?
Hussein Abdreddin al Houthi, a prominent Zaydi cleric and member of parliament from 1993 to 1997, became a strong critic of President Ali Abudllah Saleh in the 1990s. He accused the government of aligning too closely with the United States and Israel. Tensions mounted further after President Saleh reportedly cut funding to Hussein al Houthi in 2000. Frustrated by the Zaydis’ poor political and economic status, he began rallying supporters for anti-government demonstrations in the early 2000s. The government issued a warrant for al Houthi’s arrest, and his followers began clashing violently with security forces. Al Houthi was killed by security forces in 2004. Since then, his relatives and supporters have waged six uprisings against the government, known as the Houthi wars. President Saleh accused Iran of supporting the rebellions. The Houthis signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 2010, but joined the Arab Spring protests against Saleh one year later.
How did the Houthis rise to power?
After months of protests, President Saleh ceded power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour al Hadi in November 2011. But Hadi enjoyed little popular support in Yemen, and the Houthis took advantage of the power vacuum in the north. From 2012-2013, they gained followers and allies. They consolidated their territorial control, pushing south towards Sanaa. In September 2014, the Houthis took over the capital. They initially agreed to a U.N.-brokered peace deal that required them to withdraw from Sanaa following the formation of a unity government. But in January, the Houthis rejected the government’s newly drafted constitution and took over the presidential palace. President Hadi and his government resigned on January 22. The next month, the Houthis announced that a five-member presidential council would replace Hadi. Hadi fled south to Aden and revoked his resignation, declaring himself the legitimate president of Yemen. In response, Houthi insurgents began bombing Hadi’s Aden headquarters. At Hadi’s request, Saudi Arabia – along with a coalition of nine other Sunni nations – began launching airstrikes against Houthi positions on March 26. The Houthis remained defiant. “Our fighters will not evacuate from the main cities or the government institutions,” Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al Houthi said on April 19. “Anyone who thinks we will surrender is dreaming.” On April 21, Saudi officials announced the end of the campaign, known as operation “Decisive Storm,” claiming they had successfully degraded the Houthis’ military infrastructure. The Houthis also agreed to meet several U.N. demands, including releasing the Yemeni Defense Minister, whom they were holding captive. But Saudi Arabia resumed airstrikes two days later, and the first month of the campaign had neither driven the Houthis from Sanaa nor restored Hadi to power. Multiple attempts at peace talks organized by the United Nations have all failed. The first two attempts were in Switzerland in June and December 2015. The United Nations tried again in Kuwait in April 2016, but discussions broke down in August and fighting between the Houthis and pro-government forces resumed. As of March 2017, seven ceasefire agreements had been broken in the conflict. In December 2017, after 30 months of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, the Houthi’s were largely in control of northern Yemen.
What is the relationship between Houthis and other Islamists in Yemen?
The Houthis have a tense relationship with Islah, a Sunni Islamist party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Islah claims the Houthis are an Iranian proxy, and blames them for sparking unrest in Yemen. The Houthis, on the other hand, have accused Islah of cooperating with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
After the Houthis took over Sanaa in September 2014, Islah initially took a few steps towards reconciliation. In November, top Islah and Houthi leaders met to discuss a political partnership. Islah called on the Houthis to cease attacks on Islah members and to release Islah prisoners. In December, the United Nations and Gulf Cooperation Council brokered a deal between the two groups to cease hostilities.
But clashes between the Houthis and Islah continued. In the first four months of 2015, the Houthis kidnapped dozens of Islah party leaders and raided their offices. By April, more than 100 Islah leaders were detained by the Houthis. Tensions increased after Islah declared support for the Saudi-led airstrikes.
The Houthis are also at odds with Sunni extremist groups. On March 20, 2015, an ISIS affiliate calling itself the Sanaa Province claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks on two Zaydi mosques that killed at least 135 people and injured more than 300 others. The group issued a statement that said “infidel Houthis should know that the soldiers of the Islamic State will not rest until they eradicate them.”
AQAP denied involvement in the mosque attacks, but has frequently targeted the Houthis. In April 2015, the group claimed responsibility for three suicide attacks that killed dozens of Houthis in Abyan, al Bayda’, and Lahij. AQAP has reportedly partnered with southern tribes to fight the Houthis.
Who are their leaders?
Abdul Malik al Houthi, brother of Hussein al Houthi, has been the group’s spiritual, military, and political leader since 2007. Little is known of his personal life, and he makes few public appearances. His brother-in-law, Youssef al Midani, is the deputy leader. Abdul Malik’s two brothers, Yahia and Abdul-Karim, are also senior leaders of the movement.
On April 14, 2015 the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Abdul Malik al Houthi for engaging in acts that “threaten the peace, security, or stability of Yemen.” The same month, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo against the Houthis and blacklisted Abdul Malik al Houthi.
Timeline: The Houthis in Yemen
Sept. 21-22: Houthi rebels storm Sanaa and seize government buildings. The UN brokers a deal requiring Hadi to form a new government.
Nov. 1:Houthi rebels attack the al Islah party headquarters in the southwestern city of Ibb.
Nov. 7-8: Hadi announces a new cabinet, but the Houthis reject it.
Nov. 28: Houthi rebels and al Islah reach a deal agreeing to cease hostilities, but clashes between the groups continue.
Dec. 14: Houthi rebels blow up a building belonging to al Islah in Sanaa.
Dec. 20: Dozens of protestors gather in Sanaa to demand that Houthi rebels leave the capital. Houthis respond by abducting activist Shadi Khasrouf, who participated in the protests.
Jan. 22: Hadi resigns under pressure from Houthi rebels.
March 20: Suicide attacks targeting two Houthi mosques in Sanaa kill more than 130 people and injure more than 300 others.
March 26: Saudi Arabia begins launching airstrikes in Yemen, coordinating with a 10-nation coalition.
Sept. 22: Hadi returns to Aden after the Houthis are driven out.
Dec. 15: U.N.-sponsored peace talks begin in Geneva, Switzerland and a ceasefire goes into effect in Yemen.
April 21: U.N.-backed talks begin in Kuwait between the Houthis and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.
Aug. 7: U.N.-backed talks in Kuwait conclude without an agreement between the Houthis and Hadi’s government.
Oct. 19-21: War partiesagree to a 72-hour ceasefire, allowing for civilian access to humanitarian aid. The ceasefire holds for 3 days, and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes recommence shortly after the truce expires.
Oct. 27: U.N. Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed proposes a new peace plan aimed at ending the conflict. It calls for members of the internationally-recognized Hadi government to step down or accept diminished roles in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal from major cities.
Oct. 31: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, calls for an end to indiscriminate Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen.
Nov. 29: The Houthis and members of the ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress form a new 35-minister government based in Sanaa.
Jan. 18: A Houthi strike kills six civilians in the central city of Taiz, just one day after the killing of six other civilians outside of the city.
Jan. 30: Three Houthi suicide boats attack a Saudi frigate off the Hodeida port in the Red Sea, killing two crew members and wounding three others.
Jan. 31: The Houthis’ official news agency says they launched a ballistic missile at a Saudi-led coalition military base on the Red Sea island of Zuqar on Monday, countering the Saudi claim of a suicide attack.
Feb. 22: A senior Yemeni army general is killed in a missile attack by the Houthis.
March 25: A court in Houthi-controlled territory sentences President Hadi and six other government officials to death for “high treason.”
May 19: Yemen’s Houthi movement says it fired a ballistic missile towards Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. The Saudi-led coalition says it intercepted the missile 200 km west of the city.
May 30: Oman mediates between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the Houthi rebels over a U.N. plan for peace talks.
June 5: The Houthis ban U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed for abandoning his neutrality and not respecting U.N. resolutions, according to Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam.
June 15: Houthi rebels fire a missile at a United Arab Emirates ship carrying medical supplies in the Red Sea. One person is injured in the attack.
The U.N. urges warring parties in Yemen to agree to a U.N.-negotiated deal over the management of port city Hodeidah and resuming government salary payments.
June 17: The Saudi-backed Yemen government agrees to the U.N. two-point solution regarding the Hodeidah port.
July 22: The Houthis fire a Burkan-2 ballistic missile at an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia.
July 26: Houthi rebels launch a Scud missile, targeting at an oil facility near the port city of Yanbu in Saudi Arabia.
July 29: The Houthis claim an attack on a United Arab Emirates ship off the western coast of Yemen. No casualties or damage are reported.
Aug. 23: Houthi fighters call their main ally, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, “evil” and condemn his description of them as a “militia.” The statements highlight a growing rift between Saleh and the Houthis.
Aug. 24: Ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh holds a mass rally in Sanaa to celebrate 35 years since the founding of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party.
Aug. 27: Yemeni colonel and close adviser to Saleh is killed in clashes with Houthi rebels at a check-point in the southern neighborhood of Hadda.
Aug. 31: Former president Saleh demands the arrest of the Houthi gunmen who killed his close adviser.
Early Sept.: Leaders from Saleh’s GPC party and the Houthis meet to fix the rift between both groups.
Sept. 24: President Hadi says that a military solution is more likely to solve Yemen’s crisis. “The military solution is the more likely one for the Yemen crisis in light of the intransigence of the Houthi and Saleh coup militias which continue to take orders from Iran,” Hadi says in an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Sept. 25: Yemen’s Houthi forces detain a U.S. citizen in Sanaa.
Oct. 1: The Houthis say they shot down a U.S. surveillance drone in the capital of Sanaa.
Oct. 29: Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir says Iran is blocking peace efforts in Yemen and is still smuggling weapons to the Houthis.
Nov. 4: Saudi Arabia says it intercepted a ballistic missile that was fired from Yemen near King Khaled Airport in Riyadh.
Nov. 6: Saudi Arabia blames Iran for the Houthi missile attack on Riyadh airport.
Nov. 7: Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir charges Iran with an act of war following the Houthi missile attack on Riyadh.
The Saudi-led coalition closes all air, land and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula in order to stem the flow of supplies and arms to the Houthis from Iran.
Nov. 8: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia was a reaction to Saudi aggression. “How should the Yemeni people react to bombardment of their country. So they are not allowed to use their own weapons? You stop the bombardment first and see if the Yemenis would not do the same,” Rouhani says.
The White House condemns the Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia that occurred on November 4.
Nov. 12: The Houthis threaten to attack warships and oil tankers in retaliation for Saudi Arabia closing Yemen’s ports.
Nov. 22: The Saudi-led coalition says it going to reopen Yemen’s Hodeida port to allow humanitarian aid through to the capital of Sanaa.
Nov. 24: Remannts of four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis appear to have been designed and manufactured in Iran, a confidential U.N. report says.
Dec. 2: Ali Abdullah Saleh publicly splits from his alliance with the Houthis. He calls for a “new page” in his relationship with the Saudi-led coalition.
Dec. 4: Ex-president Saleh is killed by the Houthis in a roadside ambush near Sanaa.
Dec. 19: Saudi Arabia intercepts a ballistic missile over southern Riyadh. The Houthis claim responsibility for the attack, which was targeting the royal Yamama Palace in the capital. No damage is reported.
Jan. 9: Houthi rebels threatened to block the Red Sea shipping lane if the Saudi-led coalition keeps moving towards the Hodeidah port. “If the aggressors keep pushing toward Hodeidah and if the political solution hits wall, there are some strategic choices that will be taken as a no return point, including blocking the international navigation in the Red Sea,” Houthis’ Ansarullah political council chief, Saleh al-Samad, said.
Jan. 10: The Saudi-led coalition said it foiled an attack on a Saudi oil tanker by Houthi fighters near the Hodeidah port. The coalition destroyed a boat carrying explosives headed towards the tanker, coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki said.
Jan. 11: The Houthis fired a ballistic missile at a special forces camp and a facility for helicopter gunships in the Saudi border province of Najran. Saudi air defence forces shot down the missile mid-air without any casualties, Colonel Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said.
Jan. 12: A UN panel concluded that Iran violated an arms embargo imposed on Yemen by failing to prevent the Houthi rebels from obtaining Iranian missiles. The report did not say Iran had supplied missiles to the Houthi rebels, but said the Islamic Republic was in "noncompliance" with Resolution 2216, for failing to keep such weapons out of Yemen.
Jan. 16: Houthi rebels said they fired a short-range ballistic missile toward a regional airport in the Saudi border province of Jazan. Saudi defense forces said they shot down the missile over Jazan. "This hostile action by the Houthi group, which is backed by Iran, proves the Iranian regime's continuous support for the armed Houthi group by providing them with capabilities, which is in violation of UN resolutions," said spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Colonel Turki al-Malki.
Jan. 18: The Houthis fired a missile into the border province of Najran in Saudi Arabia. The missile targeted an air defense operations center and inflicted heavy damage to an air defense base in the Khadhra crossing point in Najran.
Jan. 25: Danny Lavon Burch, a U.S. citizen held captive by Houthi rebels since September 2017, was released and taken to Oman. He was accompanied to Oman by Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a senior Houthi leader.
Jan. 30: Houthi rebels said they fired a long-range ballistic missile at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh. This is the second time the Houthis targeted the Saudi airport.
Feb. 10: Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Tehran. Zarif outlined Iran's four-point peace plan for Yemen and stressed the need for an immediate stop to the war. He also called for the immediate shipment of humanitarian aid to Yemeni civilians.
The Arab coalition's Patriot air defense systems intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthis from the Ras Kutayb area in the Hodeidah province. The missile was destroyed before reaching its intended target, suspected to be al-Mukha city in the western Yemeni province of Taiz.
Feb. 12: Major General Gameel al-Mamari, a high-ranking Houthi official, defected to the Yemeni army. Al-Mamari was a spokesman for the Houthis' air defence forces and a deputy director of the military forum, a group of high-ranking army officers in Sanaa.
Feb. 13: The Houthis agreed to join a new round of peace talks with the General People's Congress party in Oman. The peace talks will take place as soon as a new UN Peace Envoy to Yemen is announced.
Senior Houthi field commander Abu Taha al-Ghalisi was killed in shelling on Houthi positions in the southwestern city of Taiz. Al-Ghalisi was responsible for leading Houthi fronts north of Taiz.
Feb. 14: The Saudi military repelled a cross border attack by Houthi rebels in the southern border town of Nathran. Around 25 Houthi militants were killed and other wounded. Saudi helicopters also destroyed three Houthi military vehicles. This was the second cross border attack by the Houthis in less than a week.
Feb. 16-26: The United States, Britain and France drafted a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Iran for failing to stop its ballistic missiles from falling into the hands of the Houthis. The draft also called for renewed UN sanctions on Yemen and would allow the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions for "any activity related to the use of ballistic missiles in Yemen." Russia vetoed the resolution. The UN Securty Council subsequently passed a Russian-drafted resolution that renewed the embargo and panel's mandate but left out the Iran-Houthi issue.
Feb. 21: Mohammed Ali al Houthi submitted a letter to the United Nations to end the three-and-a-half-year war. The document titled "An Initiative to End the Tragedies Caused by the Aggression on Yemen" criticized the U.N. Security Council for failing "to prevent the interference and aggression against Yemen as well as the massacres committed daily against the Yemeni citizens." The letter also included points for ending the conflict, such as forming a reconciliation comittee, presidential and parliamentary elections, international guarantees to begin reconsturction and compensation for damages, and preventing any aggression from foreign countries against Yemen.
Feb. 27: The Houthis refused to sign a peace agreement that was built on discussions between the internationally recognized government and themselves, according to outgoing UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. The Houthis rejected security arrangements that required them to pull out of cities and hand over weapons to a neutral military committee. “It became clear that the Al Houthis were not prepared to make concessions on the proposed security arrangements. This has been a major stumbling block towards reaching a negotiated solution,” Ahmed said in his last briefing to the U.N. Security Council.
March 1: Coalition airstrikes killed more than 100 Houthi rebels and injured dozens of fighters in the western Hodeidah district.
March 21: Houthi rebels violenty disbanded a protest by dozens of supporters of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the Yemeni capital. A number of protestors were detained and some injures were reported.
March 25: The Houthis fired seven missiles at four Saudi cities - three at the capital Riyadh, one at the southwest city of Khamis Mushait, one at southern Najran and two at Jizan. The Houthi Ministry of Defense claimed the missiles hit seven different targets inside Saudi Arabia, including four airports. But the Saudi coalition denied the claims, saying all missiles were intercepted and destroyed. Fragments from the intercepted missiles killed an Egyptian resident. It is the first death on Saudi soil since the military intervention began.
March 29: Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile from the northern Yemeni province of Saada at the Saudi city of Jazan. Saudi air defences intercepted the missile before it could strike its target.
March 30: The Yemeni army destroyed a Houthi weapons stockpile in Saada province. The strike coincided with a coalition raid on Houthi militias in the northern province. Houthi militants launched a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia from the province the night before.
March 31: Saudi air defense forces intercepted a missile fired by the Yemeni Houthis. The missile targeted a Saudi National Guard base in the southern city Najran, a rebel-run news agency reported. An Indian resident was injured by falling debris in the attack.
April 2: Saleh al Samad, the head of the Houthi Political Council in Sanaa, said the rebels were "ready to buy weapons from any country that wants to sell to us, be it Russia or Iran." But he demanded the weapons be delivered to Sanaa to bypass the coalition blockade. Samad made the comments during a graduation ceremony speech for Houthi military cadets in Sanaa.
April 3: Houthi rebels struck a Saudi Arabian oil tanker with a missile west of Hodeidah in international waters. A coalition warship intervened and escorted the tanker, which sustained minimal damage, northwards. The Houthis said the attack was in response to a coalition airstrike on the rebel-held Hodeidah port that killed 14 people, including women and children, the day before.
April 4: Saudi Arabia intercepted a Houthi missile that was intended for southern Jizan.
April 6: The Houthis fired a missile at the southern city Najran, Saudi Arabia. Saudi defense forces intercepted the missile. No damage or casualties were reported.
April 11: The Houthis launched a Burkan 2-H ballistic missile at the Saudi capital Riyadh and also targeted oil facilities in southern Najran and Jizan, according to the rebel's Al Masirah television network. The missile traveled more than around 500 miles into Saudi Arabia before it was intercepted by Saudi air defenses. The Saudi-led coalition said it had also shot down two drones in southern Saudi Arabia. The Houthis claimed they targeted some areas with Qasif-1 drones.
April 12: Saudi air defense forces intercepted a Houthi missile targeting southern Jizan.
April 13: “As long as the aggression continues, our military capabilities will grow and develop,” said Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the rebel group. The Houthis also fired a missile at Saudi Arabia for a third day in a row. The missile targeted southern Jizan but was intercepted by Saudi defense systems.
April 15: Iran supplied the Houthis with drones used to attack Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government alleged. The drones were "made in Iran" and it was "impossible to manufacture them locally," said Yemen's internationally recongized government.
April 19: The Houthis shot down a U.S.-drone over Hodeidah, according to Middle East Monitor.
Saleh al Sammad, the head of the Houthis' Supreme Political Council, was killed in Saudi airstrikes on Hodeidah province, Al Masirah TV reported. Mahdi al Mashat was elected as Sammad's successor. "This crime will not break the will of our people and state ... [and] will not pass without accountability," Abdul Malik al Houthi said. "The forces of this aggression led by Washington and the Saudi regime are legally responsible for such a crime and all its implications."
April 22: The Houthis fired a ballistic missile at southern Najran. Saudi air defences intercepted the missile, "but the shrapnel scattered over residential areas and cause a fire at a farm belonging to a citizen, without causing any injuries," the Saudi Press Agency said.
April 23: Saudi Arabia intercepted two ballistic missiles at Saudi Aramco oil production facility in southern Jizan. The Houthis claimed responsibility on its Al Masirah TV.
April 24: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the U.S. of fabricating evidence that Houthi missiles launched against Saudi Arabia were manufactured in Iran.
April 26: Saudi Arabia intercepted four ballistic missiles from Houthi rebels over southwestern Jizan. Falling debris from the interception killed one person.
April 29: The Houthis vowed to intensify rocket atacks on Saudi Arabia and said they are manufacturing their own ballistic missiles.
Three Saudi soldiers died in clashes with the Houthis along the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border, the Saudi Press Agency said.
May 3: The UN's Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in Omani to meet with Houthi officials to try and revive peace talks.
May 6: Houthi rebels launched two ballistic missils at the southern city of Najran. Saudi air defence forces intercepted the missiles. Debris from the missiles fell on residential neighborhoods but no injuries or damage were reported. "This hostile action by the Houthi militias proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime," said Saudi coalition spokesman Col. Turki al Maliki.
May 9: The Houthis fired missiles at economic targets in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia intercepted one missile and another landed in an uninhabitated area in the desert south of the capital. Col. Turki al Maliki said the Houthis also "failed to launch a short-range Badr-type rocket" toward Najran but it also landed in an desert area.
May 11: Some 40 Houthis were killed during clashes with Yemeni forces outside the city of Hodeidah.
May 14: Houhi rebels launched a ballistic missile at Saudi Aramco in southern Jizan province. The missile landed in the open desert and no damage was inflicted, the Saudi-led coalition said.
May 19: Saudi Arabia intercepted ballistic missiles from the Houthis, which were targeting the city of Khamis Mushait.
May 22: The U.S. sanctioned five Iranians it said provided Yemen's Houthis with technical expertise and waeponry to launch attacks against Saudi Arabia.
May 29: Yemeni forces advanced within 20 kilometers of the Houthi-held Hodeidah port.
Cameron Glenn was a senior program assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the primary author of this article. Mattisan Rowan, a program assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, updated this report.
Photo credits: Houthi logo by Takahara Osaka [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons; Sanaa by Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Yemen: Who controls what via Al Jazeera using LiveUAMap
About the Author
"The Islamists" is a book and website on the origins, evolution, and positions of Islamist movements in the Middle East. The movements are redefining the order and borders in the world’s most volatile region. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals. Read more