Rubymar Ship Sinks Into the Red Sea After Houthi Missile Attack. (Source: KHALED ZIAD / AFP)

The one thing we can be confident of is that history is not over and that wherever the most exciting new ideas of the next century come from, it will almost certainly be from someplace we don’t expect.

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

For the past eight years, the Hodeidah port lay dormant, devoid of maritime activity, following a brutal war and a suffocating siege instigated by the Saudi-led coalition backed by the US. But amidst this desolation, it unexpectedly became the stage for a remarkable trajectory of asymmetric maritime warfare. On November 19th of the preceding year, Houthi rebels seized the Galaxy Leader, the vehicle carrier of a British company owned by an Israeli businessman, on its way to Jeddah. Prompted by Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza, Yemen’s Ansarallah-led armed forces declared on November 14th their intent to target any Israeli-affiliated ship traversing the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait in the Red Sea. This vital water passage serves as the entry point to the Suez Canal, facilitating approximately 10 percent of global trade and the transit of 8.8 million barrels of oil daily. On December 9th, Ansarallah expanded its operations to target any vessel in the Red Sea destined for Israel, irrespective of its nationality. “If Gaza’s essential supplies of food and medicine are not ensured, all ships bound for Israeli ports in the Red Sea, regardless of origin, will be deemed targets by our armed forces,” stated an Ansarallah Armed Forces spokesperson. The Houthis have pledged to maintain this blockade until Israel ceases its genocidal actions against Palestinians in Gaza. 

Today, around five months into the launch of the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, which sought to bring the Houthi attacks to an end, the Houthis have escalated the blockade to include the Mediterranean, the Arab Sea and the Indian Ocean, remaining undeterred and dealing a severe blow to US hegemony in West Asia. Looking closely at Yemeni resistance in the Red Sea and beyond, we ask: how does the Houthis’ ongoing insurgency redefine the present and future of regional resistance to the Zionist project? How can we locate present day Yemeni resistance within the modern and contemporary political history of Yemen? And what does the Houthis’ asymmetric warfare strategy  teach us about the political economy of maritime security and militancy in the wake of empire?

Performative Defiance

Cargo ships dominate global trade, traversing vast oceans and seas and facilitating the movement of roughly 80% of the world’s goods. Annually, an estimated $1 trillion of merchandise crosses the Bab el Mandeb Strait, constituting approximately 12% of all maritime traffic. Beneath this bustling commerce lies a complex network of social relations hidden under the water’s surface, suggesting a subtle form of commodity fetishism. These carrier vessels transfer goods through the veins of capitalism, or, to be more accurate, of neoliberal capitalism. Social relations of production are hidden away from the sight of consumers. Goods produced by cheap labour somewhere in East Asia are ferried to the centres of consumerism in the West or the Gulf countries. These ships once transported extracted goods from the colonies in the peripheries to the centres of empire in Britain, France, and other colonial powers in Europe. Today, they are moving the products of cheap labour from the Global South to the Global North. The labour inside those ships is mystified/masked by the striking sight of cargoes crossing deep blue waters, sailing against the sunset.

Repurposing a cargo ship as a public space mirrors the symbolism of transforming a factory into a theatre, effectively breaking down barriers between people and the mechanisms of capitalism.  Having been turned into a local visiting site, the Galaxy Leader seized by the Houthis back in November stars in TikTok videos capturing its visitors engaging in group dances around burning Israeli and American flags. Seizing an industrial ship in a port long besieged by imperialism transformed the once-dead space of the cargo into a vibrant public arena and a focal point for Hodeidah locals where visitors participate in a collective performance. Bringing these cargoes to an unlicensed amusement area or refashioning them as spaces to halt time prompts reflection on the entire maritime industry, the politics of the sea, and the nerve centre of consumer capitalism. Moreover, the spectacle draws the observer closer to the world’s trade routes, prompting a nuanced exploration of class dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula and evoking the spectre of Third-Worldism.

The Working Class of the Arab Peninsula

Numerous observers find Yemen’s culture of resistance captivating, distinguishing it from neighbouring states often viewed as imperial proxies. Yet, many celebratory accounts reinforce a racialised viewpoint prevalent in global politics, prioritising ethnonational analyses over a comprehensive examination of historical and economic factors including Yemen’s encounter with colonialism and its legacies.

The colonial history of Arabia and its economic policies have profoundly shaped the region and its journey toward modernisation. The port of Aden in South Yemen was once a crucial pillar of British colonial wealth, serving as a vital refuelling point for steamships in the 19th century due to its strategic location. In “Sinews of War and Trade,” Laleh Khalili writes:

Aden was ‘the first territorial acquisition of the Red Sea route and the first coaling station annexed to any empire.’ The governor of Bombay, Sir Robert Grant, justified the conquest of Aden thus: The establishment of a monthly communication by steam with the Red Sea, and the formation of a flotilla of armed steamers, renders it absolutely necessary that we should have a station of our own on the coast of Arabia, as we have in the Persian Gulf … As a coal depot, no place on the coast is so advantageous; it divides the distance between Bombay and Suez, and steamers may run into Back Bay during the night and unload at all seasons in perfect security.

 Laleh Khalili, Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula (2020)

Yemen’s significance for the colonial project dwindled following the discovery of oil in the northern and eastern regions of the peninsula. Instead of investing in Yemen’s development, the British focused their loans and aid on building infrastructure in places like Dubai, Sharjah, and Dammam. They thus relegated Aden to a mere transit and refuelling port and left the rest of Yemen languishing in neglect. The consequences of this shift were profound, not only for Yemen but for the broader regional dynamics. The British, driven by their desire to assert control over future political landscapes and preempt potential revolts in oil-producing territories, strategically deployed their resources to consolidate power in critical locations. This strategy inadvertently laid the groundwork for a hierarchical structure of regional dominance, with certain cities and nations emerging as beneficiaries of colonial patronage. In contrast, others were left to languish on the sidelines.

This order created a complex social structure and class system intertwined with the peninsula’s geography. The North and South emerged as distinct entities, with the former hosting colonial infrastructure and the latter serving as a source of labour for the northern states. By the 1950s, a significant part of the southern Yemeni population found employment as port and dock workers under the British administration in Aden. Additionally, approximately 15% of the northern Yemen population had migrated to the oil-rich northern regions of the Arabian Peninsula, as by 1962, there were 800.000 Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the eastern states, which later became the UAE. The remaining Yemenis were primarily engaged in agriculture or occupied white-collar positions within the British administration. In essence, imperial and colonial history transformed Yemen into the working-class hub of the Arabian Peninsula.

The social landscape fostered a political movement rooted in working-class consciousness. In southern Yemen, where the British aimed to maintain control over Aden as part of the empire, the National Liberation Front emerged. This group vehemently opposed British rule and successfully regained independence in 1967. The British prolonged the conflict to fulfil a promise to the USA and prevent another strategic location from falling to communist guerrillas akin to those exhausting them in Vietnam. With this independence, southern Yemenis won against the British on the battlefield and defeated the will of the Americans.

Meanwhile, efforts were underway in northern Yemen to dismantle the feudal system. A majority of workers and peasants supported a military coup that toppled the Mutawakkilite Kingdom, a monarchy that had governed Yemen for a century, in a move similar to that of the Nasserists in Egypt in 1952. The popular coup sparked a fierce conflict between progressives, supported by the regional pan-Arab movement and advocating for a republican system, and traditional royalists backed by colonial powers, reactionary royals of the region, and Israel, marking the beginning of tensions between Yemenis and Israel. The Republicans emerged victorious and established an anti-imperial state that shaped early Yemeni national consciousness.

The Spectre of Third Worldism 

Many historians characterise the years between 1967 and 1978 as a time of isolation for Yemen. My family’s experience, however, is quite different, as some members pursued education or dedicated part of their youth to learning and teaching in Yemen alongside fellow revolutionaries, precisely in those years. With its bifurcated state, Yemen emerged as a hub for Arab and African leftists, functioning as a nexus of internationalist solidarity. With two socialist, anti-imperialist regimes in the north and the south, Yemen played a pivotal role in advancing the Third Worldism movement. As Sune Haugbolle and Rasmus C. Elling write, Third Worldism embodied the idea that revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle in what we now term the Global South, fortified by international solidarity, would not only secure national liberation for oppressed peoples but also enable universal emancipation.1 Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, amidst a wave of progressive movements spanning from Chile to the Congo, including the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, many such endeavours faced obstacles such as CIA-sponsored coups and sabotage. Examining Yemen during this period, particularly between 1962 and 1978, reveals some stories that will help us understand today’s Hodeidah moment.

The National Liberation Front (NLF) was a Marxist organisation that aimed to liberate South Arabia from colonialism and oppression. It emerged as a descendant of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN), which was founded in 1952 under Palestinian leadership in Beirut. The MAN operated alongside groups like the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The NLF established the only Marxist state in the Arab World in South Yemen in 1967 and maintained strong support for their Palestinian counterparts.

By the end of the 1960s - beginning of the 70s, new leadership emerged in both north and south Yemen, shaping policies that continue to reverberate in Yemeni society today. In the south, Ali Salim Alrabie’s (Salmeen) ascension to the presidency in 1969, amidst a violent dispute within the national liberation movement, left a profound impact. Similarly, Ibrahim Hamdy’s rise to power in the north through a bloodless military coup marked a significant turning point. Salmeen and his allies in the south were instrumental in crafting the 1970 constitution of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). This constitution, influenced by Marxist legal principles, laid the foundation for a unified Arab Socialist Yemen where sovereignty resided in the hands of the “working people.” The constitution abolished special privileges held by sultans, sayyids, men, foreigners, and property owners and guaranteed universal rights to housing, education, healthcare, and social security. 

Additionally, neighbourhood defence committees were established, modelled after those in Cuba, aiming to empower communities and bolster governance from the blow. On the other hand, Hamdi continued the policy of his predecessor, Judge Alaryani, of nationalising the majority of feudal lords’ land and redistributing it to the public. He implemented a moderate but impactful land reform program reminiscent of the one undertaken by Nasserists in Egypt. Additionally, he devised a plan to redistribute power initially concentrated amongst the tribes by systematically sidelining tribal leaders from prominent political, security, and military positions. While maintaining diplomatic ties with the West and international financial institutions, his primary focus was on fostering a friendship with the leader of South Yemen.

The two regimes set to nationalise most of the country’s production and conduct land reform. Both regimes advocated farm mechanisation, yet typical Yemeni farmers planting sorghum or millet with their draft animals on small, scattered, often terraced parcels were unable to profitably invest in pumps, tractors, or trucks, even with remittance income. Both regimes turned to “cooperatives” around 1974, hoping to combine petty savings and remittances for investment in nurseries, equipment, repair stations, storage facilities, and marketing services. Both leaders were committed to wealth redistribution and shared aspirations for an independent Yemen, symbolised by their friendship sealed in the Qataba agreement of February 1977. During this historic meeting, they laid the groundwork for Yemeni unity, advocating for principles of freedom, democracy, and social justice. Despite their noble intentions, this vision remained unrealised as a succession of violent months ensued, culminating tragically in the assassination of both leaders. The intricate nature of the conspiracy hinted at the involvement of various actors, potentially including monarchists in the region and former colonial powers, bolstered by emerging capitalist interests that came to dominate Yemen following their deaths. Thus, the stage was set for Yemen’s trajectory toward neoliberalism, characterised by dependency on aid, loans, and the dictates of international financial institutions.

Hamdi and Salmeen epitomised anti-imperial Third Worldism, a paradigm that remains relevant in understanding Yemen’s stance today. Hamdi refused to bow to the influence of the northern monarchy, backed by the USA, and instead fostered unity with the south, striving for an egalitarian Yemen. Similarly, Salmeen avoided becoming a satellite of the USSR and garnered popularity by directly supporting peasants and workers, opposing bureaucratic Soviet-style procedures. Both leaders steered clear of aligning Yemen with either side of the Cold War, refusing to become proxy clients. Despite their leadership being marked by brutality towards opposition and their failure to establish a genuinely democratic state, they laid the foundational groundwork for modern Yemen. They are nostalgically remembered by many across the country both in the north and south ( their ideologies resurfaced during the Yemen Popular Uprising in 2011).  While many countries in the so-called Global South embraced this development, a counter-project emerged at the end of the 1970s led by various national and international actors, aiming to dismantle Third Worldism and open these nations to international market domination. This multifaceted counter-project, encompassing economic, cultural, and political dimensions, succeeded in some countries like Egypt and Tunisia but faced challenges in Yemen.

Neoliberalism and the Politicisation of Identity 

While many may argue that the pivotal moment in post-1945 colonial world history occurred with the end of the Cold War in 1991, I contend that the true turning point for the Arab world and the Global South was 1978. Egypt’s Sadat aligned himself with the Western camp and offered Israel a peace treaty during this period. He effectively fractured the Arab nationalist movement after a brief period of solidarity among Arab nations during the 1973 war, which had united various Arab factions in support of the Palestinian cause and of expelling Zionists from occupied Arab lands. Additionally, 1978 marked the onset of privatisation in the public sector across many Arab republics and the introduction of neoliberal reforms. This period also saw the advancement of monarchy tribalism as opposed to the Iranian Islamic revolution, exemplified by Saudi Arabia, which established a network of banking systems and investments to dominate the region. This marked the beginning of the decline of the Arab Left. 

Yemen witnessed a swift transition following the assassination of Hamdi, with Ali Abdalla Salah assuming the presidency eight months later, succeeding a brief interim period under Algashmi, whose demise was exploited to eliminate Salmeen and his comrades in the south. Salah maintained the rhetoric of the republican revolution, Arab unity, and Palestinian solidarity superficially, but his policies were marked by corruption and a meticulous alignment with Saudi interests. He strategically leveraged tribalism to consolidate power, effectively reversing progressive advancements and perpetuating societal disenfranchisement. He also reignited the hostility between the South and the North, with Saudi Arabia already strategising to exert dominance over both Yemens by inundating the leadership with financial resources and aid. Saleh emerged as a key figure in advancing Saudi interests, personally receiving a monthly stipend from the Saudis. The country became heavily reliant on Saudi funds and international aid, with 750,000 workers employed in the prosperous oil-producing nations. By 1979, Saudi Arabia had injected $1 billion into the agricultural sector, restructuring it to empower capitalist landlords and undoing the socialist land reforms of the 1960s and 70s. By 1990, the two Yemens united to form the Republic of Yemen under the leadership of Ali Abdallah Saleh and his family and many tribal elites and landlords who benefited from neoliberal agrarian reforms.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia also funded various Salafi groups, exacerbating discontent among the 40% Zaidi population in Yemen. It is noteworthy that the Zaidis were not marginalised historically, as Saleh and many of his predecessors hailed from the Zaidi sect; in addition to that, they constitute the core identity of the Mutawakkilite dynasties that have governed Yemen for centuries. These dynasties received substantial support from Saudi Arabia and former colonial powers during their conflicts with the Republicans in the 1960s when colonial Britain was outsourcing its imperial mission to traditionalist feudalist monarchies in the peninsula. But today, like many other Yemenis in various provinces in the south, most Zaidis in Saada have been affected by neoliberal reforms, neglect from the central government, ecological crises, and the absence of water, which have impacted Yemen since the beginning of this century. 

Salih faced his first major challenge as president of unified Yemen when the Gulf Crisis erupted due to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The USA led a coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait and safeguard its Gulf oil suppliers. Salih was torn between funding from the Gulf countries and maintaining a Yemeni anti-imperialist position. He attempted to appease all parties to sustain his position, but during the Iraq War, he was forced to choose between the Gulf-American coalition, which aimed to establish a new world order, and the forces of anti-imperialist Arab nationalism opposing the presence of foreign troops on Arab lands. Despite pressure from Gulf countries, and driven by the anti-imperial sentiments of his people, Salih opposed the deployment of US troops in Kuwait, which angered his Gulf sponsors and the United States. This stance led to the expulsion of more than 700,000 Yemeni workers from the Gulf countries, worsening the country’s economic condition.

Concurrently, amidst growing discontent among the Zaidis from the Salafis’ influence and the economic crisis, Badr Aldeen Alhouthi emerged as a prominent figure, advocating for the revival of a Zaidi nation from his stronghold in northern Yemen’s Saada: this province suffered historical marginalisation and had been affected dramatically by water shortage. Notably, he introduced a new condition, stipulating that only individuals with Hashemite lineage could lead, effectively granting his family exclusive leadership privileges. It is worth mentioning that this occurred during the year of the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the Third World witnessing a shift towards discourses focusing on religious and ethnic identity as central to politics. Yassin haj Saleh describes this moment as follows: “The rise of civilizational and cultural doctrines, and identity politics, at the expense of the ideologies and policies of action (national liberation, national construction, socialism) and changing reality that were dominant until the 1980s”,2 which already started to unfold since 1978.

The Houthi movement initially arose as a Hashemite supremacist group, employing charitable tactics to counter the Salafi influence. Hussein, the son of Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, assumed the role of its ideologue, infusing the movement with a radical anti-imperialist doctrine (that nonetheless fell short of embodying a progressive political program in many respects) and establishing a solid presence in Saada. The movement refrained from confrontation with the Saleh government until Saleh conceded the disputed land of Najran (with its 20,000 Zaidis and 700,000 Ismailis, regarded as kin by the Zaidis) to Saudi Arabia to regain favour with the Gulf states. Moreover, Saleh abandoned his anti-imperialist stance from the 1990s to fully support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, seeking financial backing from global institutions. 

Meanwhile, the Houthi movement gained momentum, tapping into the economic discontent from neoliberal policies introduced through several legislations; most significantly the agrarian reform of 1995, which privatised the land once again. Fearing the Houthis’ growing strength, Saleh labelled them as Iranian proxies without historical or political evidence, and he suppressed the movement, culminating in the killing of its leader, Hussein, in 2004. However, by then, as Salih started to rely on Americans’ lethal support and the “war on terror” security system, the movement had already amassed considerable power, proving difficult to contain. 

The Arab Spring uplifted Arab revolutionary morale and propelled various ideologies to the forefront, including leftist, Arab nationalist, Islamic anti-imperialism, liberal anti-corruption, and numerous other projects aimed at challenging Arab autocracy. The movement garnered significant traction in Yemen due to the nation’s rich history of class struggle. President Salih countered the revolution through political manoeuvres and shifting alliances, while Saudi Arabia, backed by the USA, sought to assert its dominance over the revolution’s outcome. Initially lacking widespread support, the Houthi rebels nonetheless participated in the collective effort to realise the revolution, particularly during the successful initial transition stage, representing the social constituency of the impoverished Saada provinces in the north. From 2011 to 2014, amidst the transitional period, various revolutionary and anti-revolutionary groups employed their strategies successfully. However, Saudi attempts to dominate the transition and Salih’s determination to retain power dramatically altered the landscape. The transitional government neglected national dialogue results and relied on Saudi policies and their one billion dollar fund. It also continued to implement harsh structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF by removing oil subsidies, making it increasingly unpopular.

In a highly contentious move and in response, the Houthis aligned themselves with Salih and seized control of the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. In return, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition with logistical support from the United States, invoking anti-imperialist sentiments in Yemen, which the Houthis drew upon to lead the resistance against the intervention. After solidifying the army’s loyalty and becoming wary of Salih’s manoeuvres, the Houthis severed ties with him, eventually leading to his murder. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition, notably supported by the UAE, pursued an aggressive strategy, gaining control over historic South Yemen while laying siege to the Houthi-controlled northern region, where 80% of Yemen’s population resided.

After more than 150,000 people lost their lives- estimates indicated over 227,000 casualties due to famine- the UN brokered a truce, which some interpreted as a sign of Saudi withdrawal or an acknowledgment of defeat, as Saudi officials voiced a desire to end the costly conflict.The discourse surrounding a potential Saudi withdrawal gained momentum following Houthi attacks on oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia. These facilities, operated by Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil company, rank among the largest crude oil stabilisation plants worldwide. This strike prompted the Saudi coalition to reconsider their stance, indicating to the Houthis that targeting the core of capitalism—where oil fuels the machinery of extraction—could be a strategic path to both victory and public support. It is a lesson of significant relevance in today’s context.

Disruption of the Supply Chain and Asymmetric Warfare 

Following Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza, the people of Yemen have taken to the streets in million-man marches, demanding action and solidarity, affirming that power in Yemen requires a commitment to solidarity. Meanwhile, the Houthis have acted by targeting and seizing ships linked to or en route to Israel in the Red Sea, Arab Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. As recently as the 24th of May, the Houthis announced 3 operations conducted in three different seas on the same day: Israeli ship MSC ALEXANDRA was targeted in the Arabian Sea, the ship YANNIS of the Greek Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Company was directly hit as it passed through the Red Sea, and the Israeli ship ESSEX was struck by missiles in the Mediterranean. Following a brutal bombing campaign by the US and the UK, Yemeni maritime operations also expanded to include American and British cargo ships. Despite initial denials by Israel and the USA, these actions have dealt a significant blow to Israel’s economy, its state backers, and by extension, global capitalism and its supply chains.

The blockade prompted major shipping companies like MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, COSCO, Hapag-Lloyd, and Evergreen Marine Corporation to suspend ship traffic through the Red Sea. BP also halted all shipments through the Red Sea. Maersk, holding a substantial share in the global container shipping market, resumed operations briefly but suspended them again following further attacks. Their container shipping costs have multiplied upward of 300%, and their insurance premiums for ships crossing the Red Sea have soared by up to 50%. Tesla and Volvo Cars faced supply chain disruptions, leading to production halts. Shell plc also ceased transit through the Red Sea. Evergreen Marine Corporation suspended its services to Israel, followed by COSCO and its subsidiary OOCL. Eilat Port has seen an 85% drop in activity forcing it to lay off 50% of its employees, and many ships heading to Israel’s other ports on the Mediterranean have opted for longer, safer yet costlier routes around Africa. By February 2024, over half of the UK’s export businesses suffered from shipping disruptions, leading to increased container costs, cash flow issues, and production line shortages. Global shipping passing through the Red Sea has declined by up to 40%. This decrease in the Red Sea trade had substantial repercussions for the Egyptian economy. While some freighters continued transit, container shipping companies largely avoided the Red Sea. Chinese and Russian vessels unrelated to Israel received assurances of safe passage. Marine insurers began requiring warranties excluding Israeli involvement. Qatar halted LNG tankers through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait due to increased risks from US-led airstrikes in Yemen. Shell indefinitely suspended Red Sea shipments, and some ships began broadcasting “No contact Israel” signals in response to Houthi requests. The latter underscores a successful strategy of economic isolation operating via raising the cost of association and effectively making ties with Israel bad for business. 

The actions have also transformed the maritime route market, where routes themselves, once considered mere pathways, are now subject to pricing and commodification. As aptly articulated by Laleh Khalili, “routes are not just fleeting paths across the sea or lines on a map; they involve intricate calculations regarding costs and freight rates. When routes are assigned monetary value, they themselves—separate from the cargo they carry—become commodities open to speculation. Many of the elements that shaped route-making during the age of sail continue to influence the complexities of our modern transient pathways; today, these historical routes find expression in the digital networks of market structures.”3 Like other commodity markets, this route market is susceptible to speculation and capitalist competition, often dictated by the power dynamics of states and conglomerates. When disruptions occur, and ships are rerouted, it disrupts the initial calculations, further exacerbating capitalist contradictions.

The Houthis’ blockade is imposed through the deployment of one-way attack drones, primarily homemade and Iranian, costing just $2,000 at most, while larger Shahed-136 drones are estimated at $20,000. In stark contrast, the USA attempted to defend ships with $1.3 million Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, prompting the U.S. military Central Command to request a new budget to restructure its military inventory, which is ill-prepared for this type of warfare. We are talking about a disparate cost ratio fluctuating between 100:1 to 1000:1 or more, highlighting the extent to which the Yemeni resistance has been able to leverage this asymmetry in its favour. According to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, by April 16 the US Navy had already deployed around 1 billion dollars worth of munitions to bring down Houthi missiles and drones. Through this tactic, the Houthis not only orchestrated disruption of the supply chain on a pandemic scale but also made it excessively costly for the USA to deter them. Moreover, the Houthis have forced the US to deplete their supply of key tactical missiles at a relatively minimal cost. 

This economic aspect of asymmetrical warfare is one that the USA has historically encountered but did not successfully master, often resorting to tactics aimed at minimising costs and deterring small groups by inflicting maximum casualties. However, the nature of asymmetrical warfare has undergone significant changes. While in the past, less powerful groups relied on human sacrifice to deplete the resources of larger adversaries, today’s landscape sees a shift towards machine versus machine conflicts, such as drones against missiles or missiles against missiles. In response to six years of battling technologically advanced enemies, Ansar Allah have adapted, mastering a new form of aerial guerrilla warfare that allows them to challenge advanced armies’ aerial superiority without significant loss of life. Their drones and UAVs, strategically hidden in everyday locations like kitchens and bathrooms, emerge onto the battlefield without the need for conspicuous launchers that are easy to identify and bomb. Moreover, the current battlefield complexities- situated on a critical route of capitalism representing a quarter of the world’s market goods- render the situation more intricate, imposing significant costs on the US military and challenging its ideological framework.

While US bombings may not always achieve their intended goals, they serve to satisfy a certain nostalgic desire for dominance and power, reminiscent of past eras of air superiority. The excessive use of bombs by the USA can be viewed as a projection of power, as David Graeber put it: “The US military, unlike any other, maintains a doctrine of global power projection: that it should have the ability, through roughly 800 overseas military bases, to intervene with deadly force absolutely anywhere on the planet. In a way, though, land forces are secondary; at least since World War II, the key to US military doctrine has always been a reliance on air power.”4 Many think that the USA financed this military empire through the direct tax payment of US citizens, and while there is some truth to that, as Graeber explains, “American imperial power is based on a debt that will never—can never—be repaid. Its national debt has become a promise, not just to its own people, but to the entire world’s nations, that everyone knows will not be kept.”[ ^ Graeber, Debt: the First 5,000 Years] The US federal government issues treasury bonds and war bonds to finance military operations, with a significant portion being purchased by foreign investor countries. Ironically, China stands as the second-largest buyer of these bonds. With the USA’s foreign debt reaching $34 trillion and continuing to grow, the strikes by the Houthis will only exacerbate this cycle of unpayable debt, highlighting the contradictions of capitalism and exposing the hollow value of fiat currency.

Summoning the Ghosts

In the words of Achille Mbembe, “Colonization ensnared a significant portion of the world in a vast web of dependency. The struggle to end it, in turn, took on a global scale. It became a movement of re-potentialization, envisioned by some as a universal celebration of liberation, humanity’s elevation to the highest level of its symbolic capabilities, beginning with the entire body, rhythmically stirred in its limbs and in its intellect by song and dance—uproarious laughter and an overflow of life. It is this that endowed the anti-colonial struggle with its dreamlike and aesthetic dimension.”5 The ongoing, unfinished task of liberating Palestine continues to evoke the spectre of that struggle—a struggle comprising diverse ideologies that are nonetheless united in their resistance to the dispossession of land and spirit. 

Ansar Allah’s action resounds the popular demands of the Yemeni people, who, despite enduring immense suffering, have unfurled their flag and marched in the millions to demand an end to genocide and express unwavering solidarity with Palestinians. Regardless of one’s stance on or support for the Houthi leadership in Yemen, it is undeniable that their ascent is the outcome of a complex interplay between Yemen and the broader global landscape, between the Yemeni subjects and systems of domination. Their economic blockade on Israel has led to a disruption in the global economy and hacked the military-industrial complex’s processes, revealing Israel as a product of capitalist exploitation and military experimentation, and redefining the horizon of regional resistance to the Zionist entity. To resist Israel is to resist the system that birthed it. Yet, in the face of retaliatory measures from the world’s power-heavy arsenals, the Yemeni people defiantly march forward, echoing the sentiment of “لا نبالي” or “bring it on.”

  1.  Haugbolle and Elling, The Fate of Third Worldism in the Middle East
  2. Haj Saleh, Just Oppressors: From Narratives of Oppression to Resistance to Oppression
  3. Khalili, Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula
  4.  Graeber, Debt: the First 5,000 Years
  5.  Mbembe, Out of the Dark Night