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Tribal supporters of Yemen's Houthis wave a Palestinian flag and hold up their firearms during a protest on recent U.S.-led strikes on Houthi targets, near Sanaa, Yemen January 14, 2024.

REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Houthis cause havoc in the Red Sea

Houthi rebels in Yemen took aim at a US-owned commercial ship, on Monday, launching a cruise missile at the Gibraltar Eagle in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aden. The vessel, property of Eagle Bulk Shipping of Connecticut and flagged in the Marshall Islands, was carrying steel products. It suffered limited damage but no injuries and has now left the area.

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A missile is launched from a warship during the US-led coalition operation against military targets in Yemen on Jan. 12, 2024.

US Central Command via X/Handout via REUTERS

US and UK hit Houthi targets in Yemen

The US and UK launched strikes against military facilities in Houthi-controlled Yemen on Thursday in response to the rebel group’s attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The Houthis, who have carried out at least 27 attacks since November, since November, claim to be acting on behalf of Palestinians in response to Israel’s war against Hamas.

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An Israeli tank fires towards Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at the Israel-Gaza border, in southern Israel, December 27, 2023.

REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The war in Gaza has turned the Middle East into a powder keg

The risks of a regional war in the Middle East are rising, as a number of different actors with competing interests and historic rivalries become increasingly entangled amid the war in Gaza.

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File Photo: The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Mason pulls alongside a fleet replenishment oiler in the Atlantic Ocean, July 17, 2021.

U.S. Navy/Bill Mesta/Handout via REUTERS

American sailors arrest Houthi militants

Lost in the good news over a two-day extension of the humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza and the promised release of more captured civilians, is an event that could signal the rising risk of a broader Middle East war. On Sunday, a US warship captured five armed Houthi militants attempting to flee an Israeli-linked tanker they had briefly seized off the coast of Yemen. This is just the latest belligerent exchange between US forces and militants aligned with Iran. As in other cases, two missiles fired at the US ship from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen looked more like a fist-shake than a serious attempt to hurt anyone.

But these incidents are likely to escalate as the Qatari-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hamas ends in the coming days and the fighting intensifies sharply in southern Gaza. There is no evidence that Houthis and other Iranian proxies are following direct orders from Tehran, even if they share Iran’s view of the war. But if militants begin acting more aggressively on their own initiative, the risk of a deadly encounter that escalates the violence beyond Gaza will grow.

Iran thrives on Arab "misery," says expert Karim Sadjadpour
Iran thrives on Arab despair | GZERO World

Iran thrives on Arab "misery," says expert Karim Sadjadpour

Whether it's Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen, how much control does Iran have over its proxy forces? According to Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Karim Sadjadpour, Iran tends not to micromanage these groups. Iran may not typically give direct, day-to-day instructions but instead defer to these leaders to make their own decisions. However, Sadjadpour adds, on a broader level, Iran wields significant influence as they are often the primary source of funding and military support for these groups.

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Israel's war in Gaza has emboldened Iran, says Karim Sadjadpour
Israel's war in Gaza has emboldened Iran, says Karim Sadjadpour | GZERO World

Israel's war in Gaza has emboldened Iran, says Karim Sadjadpour

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran's stance towards Israel and its Western allies has been nothing if not consistent, says Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour. In an extensive interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO World, Sadjadpour emphasizes that Iran has consistently invested substantial resources in supporting militant groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah in an effort to undermine Israel. It's a continuation of Iran's long-term strategy to challenge the existence of Israel.

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What’s Iran’s next move?
What’s Iran’s next move? | GZERO World with Ian Bremmer

What’s Iran’s next move?

Remember that famous line from Bill Clinton’s campaign staffer James Carville back in 1992?: “It’s the economy, stupid!” As Israel’s war with Hamas escalates, it brings to mind—in a nasally Louisiana accent—the phrase “It’s Iran, stupid.”

Because, whether it’s the dizzying arsenal of Hezbollah rockets in southern Lebanon pointed at Israel, or the Houthi drones targeting Israel from Yemen, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard facilities in Eastern Syria-, one thing is clear: all roads lead back to the Ayatollah. And yet, there’s a big difference between skirmishes with proxy forces and an all-out US/Israel war with Iran.

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Podcast: Iran's role in the Gaza war: is escalation inevitable?

Listen: With all eyes on Israel’s escalating war with Hamas, what’s Iran’s next move?

Iran gets around. In Southern Lebanon, Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters have a missile arsenal that dwarfs Hamas’ rocket supply and could overwhelm Israel’s famed “Iron Dome” air defense. The Pentagon recently redirected the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its strike group of destroyers to the Middle East instead of the eastern Mediterranean, ready to intercept missile and drone strikes by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen aimed at Israel. Days later, American F-16 jets carried out airstrikes in Eastern Syria on facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard and its proxies, in retaliation for a barrage of recent rocket and drone attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria.

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