Can US attacks on the Houthis in Yemen be justified as “self-defense”?

It has been used by Israel as an excuse to massacre over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza in less than five months, with thousands more missing and thought to be dead beneath the debris. And now it’s being used by the US to defend its airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen. In view of the four ongoing wars and humanitarian crises in the Middle East—Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen—that pose a threat to full-scale warfare, the right of a sovereign state to act in self-defense under international law has come under increased scrutiny in recent months.


However, US Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia this week questioned American assertions that airstrikes spearheaded by the US on Houthi targets, carried out in retaliation for Red Sea attacks on commercial vessels that the group alleges are connected to Israel, represent “self-defence”. The Houthis, a Yemeni military organization with Iranian support, began their campaign of sea assaults last year as a show of support for the Gaza Strip’s residents. One such attack occurred on November 19, when Japanese-operated cargo ship in the Red Sea with purported ties to an Israeli businessman was taken over by Houthi commandos traveling by helicopter instead of a US ship.


Since then, the Houthis are thought to have attacked about sixty military and commercial vessels operating in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden while carrying the flags of many different nations. Beginning on January 11, the US-led attacks against the Houthis, who rule over a sizable portion of Yemen, including Sanaa, its capital, have focused on their air defense systems, radars, and storage sites. Since last month, the US-led campaign has attacked over 230 Houthi targets in Yemen in an effort to reduce the group’s military might.

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