June 8, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran-Backed Houthi Rebels Abduct UN Employees

June 8, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran-Backed Houthi Rebels Abduct UN Employees

Latest Developments

Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen abducted at least 15 Yemeni employees of United Nations (UN) and other international agencies on June 7. Houthi enforcers detained nine employees of UN agencies, three from the U.S.-funded pro-democracy group National Democratic Institute, and three employees of a local human rights group, Reuters reported, citing information from officials in Yemen’s internationally recognized government. They also raided the homes and offices of the detainees and confiscated phones and computers.

The Associated Press (AP) confirmed the reports, citing regional officials stating that the UN staffers detained, all of whom are Yemeni citizens, worked for the “UN human rights agency, its development program, the World Food Programme and one working for the office of its special envoy.” The officials told AP that the wife of one of the staffers was detained as well. Most of the agencies have not yet publicly commented on the detentions. Save the Children, a non-governmental organization, told AP that it was “concerned of the whereabouts of one of our staff members in Yemen and doing everything we can to ensure his safety and well-being.”

Expert Analysis

“The Houthis flout every aspect of international law kidnapping non-combatants, strikes against international shipping, and attacks on Israel. They are not deterred by pinpoint attacks by U.S. and United Kingdom forces. They and their sponsor, Iran, will only be deterred by meaningful, cost-imposing strikes. This sort of offensive campaign is long overdue.” RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, FDD Senior Fellow and Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology

“The detention of Yemeni employees by Iran-backed Houthi rebels not only jeopardizes the safety of humanitarian workers but also disrupts vital aid operations essential for the survival of millions who have suffered since 2014. Moreover, the recent collaboration between the Iraqi groups and the Houthis highlights Iran’s broader ambition in the region: to intensify its attacks on Israel and disrupt maritime supply lines in the Red Sea, thereby impacting other countries in the region such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.” — Ahmad Sharawi, FDD Research Analyst

Houthis Threaten ‘Intensified’ Attacks on Israel With Iraqi Shia Allies

The arrests came one day after Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi said that the group would intensify its attacks against Israel in coordination with Iran-backed Shia militias based in Iraq — the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said that the Houthis and the Islamic Resistance had launched joint military operations against ships in Israel’s Haifa port. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Saree’s claims were “not true.”

Israel and United States Thwart Houthi Threats

The Houthis have launched multiple drone and missile attacks towards Israeli territory since October 19, shortly after the group announced that it would support Hamas in its war with Israel. The IDF has thwarted nearly all of the attacks, with only one missile so far impacting an open area near the southern port city of Eilat on March 17. The group has also continuously attacked commercial and military ships in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab al-Mandab Strait since November 19, claiming to target more than 100 ships traveling through the critical trade route linking Europe and Asia. On June 6, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that its forces destroyed eight Houthi aerial drones and two naval drones launched from Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen over the past 24 hours after determining them to be an “imminent threat to U.S., coalition forces, and merchant vessels in the region.” A Houthi-run television station claimed that U.S.-led forces conducted airstrikes near the Red Sea port city of Hodeida on June 7, but CENTCOM has not verified the claim.

Related Analysis

Israel Intercepts Houthi Ballistic Missile Targeting Eilat,” FDD Flash Brief

10 Things to Know About the Houthis,” FDD Insight

Houthis attack four ships and threaten to expand operations against U.S. forces,” by Ahmad Sharawi

Houthi Missile Strikes Israeli Soil for First Time,” FDD Flash Brief

Issues:

International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy