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With recent U.S. strikes against Iran-backed militia groups in Yemen and across the Middle East, the United States risks escalating regional conflict and being pulled into yet another disastrous war. 

Since the beginning of January., the U.S. and U.K. have carried out repeated strikes against the Houthis, a Yemeni militia group that controls large swaths of the country. The strikes have come in response to Houthi efforts to hinder international trade in the Red Sea in what they say is a protest of Israel’s war in Gaza. 

“Are [the strikes] stopping the Houthis? No,” President Joe Biden told reporters on Jan. 18. “Are they going to continue? Yes.”

Rather than pursuing a reckless, ineffective military approach, the U.S. must focus on the root issue of this conflict: Gaza.

The strikes between the U.S. and Iran-backed groups in Syria and Iraq have also surged in recent months, culminating tragically in the killing of three U.S. service members last week in Jordan near the Syrian border. 

Rather than pursuing a reckless, ineffective military approach that will only fuel more violence, the U.S. must focus on the root issue of this conflict: Gaza. Pressing for a ceasefire in Gaza is the only solution to ending many of the attacks being carried out by the Houthis and other militant groups in the Middle East.

In fact, during the short-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in November, attacks from both the Houthis and Iran-backed groups stopped almost completely.

Members of Congress Question U.S. Strikes

Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea began in October in response to Israel’s attacks in Gaza. On Jan. 9, the Houthis carried out their largest attack so far, targeting American and British warships. While no casualties were reported, the U.S. and U.K. retaliated with dozens of strikes on Houthi targets starting Jan. 11.

These strikes were criticized by  members of Congress from both parties. On Jan. 23, Senators Tim Kaine (VA), Todd Young (IN), Chris Murphy (CT), and Mike Lee (UT) wrote a bipartisan letter pressing President Biden to provide clarity on the strikes. They asked the administration to articulate its reasoning behind these strikes, especially given Biden’s admission that they are doing little to deter the Houthis.

A ceasefire in Gaza is the only step that’s proven effective in ending these attacks. 

The Senators also inquired about the administration’s lack of reporting to Congress. The 1973 War Powers Resolution (WPR) requires the president to report military strikes not authorized by Congress. But the administration failed to report strikes against the Houthis that were carried out prior to January, which sets a dangerous precedent for disregarding the WPR and the separation of powers set out in the Constitution.

A bipartisan group of 27 House lawmakers wrote their own letter to the president questioning the constitutionality of the strikes. Their letter asked the Biden administration to provide the legal authority for the strikes and urged the president to seek authorization from Congress before conducting any further military action in Yemen.

An Avenue for De-Escalation

Rather than de-escalating the situation, these strikes are serving as fuel for a new U.S. conflict in the Middle East. Instead of deterring Houthi attacks, they are only further hampering commercial travel through the Red Sea.

Continuing military strikes risks dragging the United States into a military quagmire in Yemen to the detriment of U.S. troops, the stability of the region, and the people of Yemen. Instead of relying on counterproductive military actions that risk escalating into a new, unwinnable war, the U.S. must adopt a more effective and non-violent approach to this conflict—one which gets to its root cause.

A ceasefire in Gaza is urgently needed for many reasons, most pressingly to end the appalling humanitarian disaster that’s been created by Israel’s massive, indiscriminate bombing of civilians. But it’s also the only step that’s proven effective in ending these attacks by Iran-backed militias in the past. And it’s the only reasonable step forward now. 

Afreen Minai

Afreen Minai
(she/her)

Program Assistant for Militarism and Human Rights (2023-2024)

Afreen Minai is the program assistant for FCNL’s Militarism and Human Rights program. As program assistant she lobbies to reduce Pentagon spending, reallocate war powers to Congress, and end U.S. militarism abroad.

Odeliya Matter

Odeliya Matter
(she/her)

Program Assistant for Middle East Policy (2023-2024)

Odeliya Matter is a program assistant for the Middle East Policy team.