Israeli government welcomes ‘long overdue’ airstrikes on Houthis

Government figures and security experts do not believe the Western military action will lead to a long-term conflict


2E3NE67 Houthi supporters hold up their weapons during a demonstration against the United States decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, in Sanaa, Yemen January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Senior figures in the Israeli government have welcomed the British and American airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and consider they were long overdue and unlikely to lead to a long-term conflict, the JC understands.

Israeli security experts across the political spectrum take a similar view and believe that neither the West nor Iran currently have an appetite for a direct military confrontation.

If borne out by events, this analysis suggests that fears that the airstrikes may trigger a global economic crisis by closing vital shipping routes in the long term may not be realised.

The US and UK launched strikes on 60 Houthi targets in Yemen on Thursday night. They followed months of increasing tension, with at least 26 separate Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea since the Gaza war started on October 7.

The rebels – a proxy terrorist militia controlled and supplied by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – have stated they see any vessel “linked” to Israel by having docked there as a legitimate target, and that they are intended to support the Palestinians.

The Houthis have also launched drones and missiles at the southern Israeli city of Eilat, although most have been intercepted by Israel’s missile defence system, Iron Dome.

Ofer Shellah, a former Knesset member for the opposition Yesh Atid party and chair of its defence and foreign affairs committee, who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told the JC:

“I don’t know what kind of language you are allowed to use in the JC, but frankly, it’s about f***ing time.

“If you speak the language of the Middle East, you know that what the Houthis have been doing is a threat to everyone, not just Israel, and they have to be made to see they cannot behave in this manner. My opinion is that so long as the US and UK are persistent and act with enough force, the Houthis will grasp the fact they cannot win, and maybe cannot survive, this war.”

Iran, he went on, did not want a confrontation with the West, and was therefore unlikely to try to close the Straits of Hormuz, the potentially vulnerable Persian Gulf pinch-point. “Moreover, you will notice that Iran does not like to act on its own behalf, but through proxies.”

Dan Diker, President of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, a widely-respected think tank known to have close ties to the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, said he was heartened to see that the Western powers “truly understand the role of the Iranian government,” and that its proxies were threatening “to ignite the entire region”.

Noting that Hamas and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which has been mounting daily cross-border airstrikes, were also Iranian proxies, Diker told the JC: “America and Britain had no choice but to react to this casus belli, an attempt to strangle the vital trade route through the Red Sea and Suez canal.

“President Biden and Prime Minister Sunak appear to have seen the writing on the wall, and that they have to mobilise against Iran’s terrorist proxies. The Iranian octopus that Israel has been calling out for years is finally getting recognition.”

In his view, Diker said, if the West had the “necessary moral and political will to nullify this threat”, the Houthis would soon back down: “The Iranian regime does not want an all-out war because they see this could lead to its destruction. If the US and Britain continue to deliver strategic blows and punish the IRGC-backed Houthis, they will stop their attacks.

“This is a very complicated geopolitical chess game, but I believe Iran does not want to risk losing its king.”

Sarit Zehavi, a reservist military intelligence lieutenant colonel who runs the Alma Centre, a security think tank located about six miles from the Lebanon border, said she believed Hezbollah was “unlikely to escalate its aggression against Israel in the wake of the airstrikes, despite the fact that it too was an Iranian proxy.”

Like Iran and the Houthis, “Hezbollah doesn’t want a full-scale war,” she said.

The Israeli government has yet to issue a formal response to the US and UK airstrikes.

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