Iran’s Geopolitical Game: Understanding the Conflict in the Middle East

The Middle East is descending into war, jeopardizing geopolitical stability and trade.

Over the past few weeks, the United States and Britain have carried out airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen. These strikes came in response to the Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aiden. The Houthis claim that they are striking ships bound for Israel in a show of support for the Palestinian people. However, many of the ships they have attacked are not linked to or bound for Israel.

But who are these groups? What do they want, and how are they related to the larger geopolitical struggle in the Middle East?

To understand the Houthis, it is first necessary to examine the Saudi-Iran conflict. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and sees itself as the natural leader of the Muslim world, and is majority Sunni Muslim. However, Iran is a theocratic authoritarian Shia state, and it believes that it should lead the Muslim world. These competing views for the future of the Islamic world have caused the two countries to fight proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

According to the BBC, the Houthis are an Iranian-backed militant group that emerged in Yemen in the 1990s. They represent Yemen’s Shia minority group and have spent the past several years fighting against the Yemeni Sunni government, which is supported by Saudi Arabia. The BBC wrote that “The Houthis have declared themselves part of an “axis of resistance” of Iran-affiliated groups, which works in opposition to Israel, the US, and the wider West.”

From 2000 to 2015, the Houthis forcibly seized much of Western Yemen, forcing the President of Yemen, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to flee abroad. Recognizing the threat of the Iranian-backed group, a coalition of Arab forces led by Saudi Arabia has supported the Yemeni government’s efforts to fight against the Houthi rebels. In February 2021, the Houthis used Iranian missiles to bomb Saudi oil infrastructure, thus further escalating the conflict. The territory suffered from a continuous proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and over 377,000 people have died as a result of the conflict.

According to Reuters, commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah are directing the Houthis to target shipping in the Red Sea, causing an international economic crisis. 

According to the Guardian, nearly a third of global shipping containers pass through the Red Sea every year, with outsized impacts on oil and gas transport from the region. With this route threatened by Houthi strikes, shipping companies are forced to choose between sailing in dangerous waters, causing them to pay exorbitant insurance prices, or sailing around Africa, which delays shipments by nearly two weeks.

Many of the major shipping companies have ceased all operations in the Red Sea. For instance, BP, a major oil and gas company, has also ceased operations in the troubled waterway.  Over time, these halts in shipping will lead to a rise in the price of consumer goods. 

The United States has responded to this aggression by redesignating the Houthis as a Specially Designated Terrorist group. The State Department wrote, “These attacks against international shipping have endangered mariners, disrupted the free flow of commerce, and interfered with navigational rights and freedoms. This designation seeks to promote accountability for the group’s terrorist activities.”

President Biden also announced a maritime security operation called Operation Prosperity Guardian, which aims to protect maritime travel in the Red Sea. According to the Department of Defense, more than 20 other nations have signed on to this security operation. However, it remains unclear if the major shipping companies will resume traveling through the Red Sea.

The United States and Britain have also taken offensive airstrikes inside Yemen to prevent Houthi missile launches. However, according to CNN, these offensives have only destroyed less than a quarter of the Houthi’s missile infrastructure. The Houthis have promised vengeance on the US and Britain for these actions. 


Despite these threats, the United States has continued to strike Houthi sites in Yemen.

The United States’ actions are not limited to airstrikes. The US Central Command announced that the Navy intercepted an Iranian shipment of ballistic missiles to the Houthis in the Arabian Sea. However, during the mission, two Navy SEALs went missing and are now presumed dead. 

Over the past several months, other Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Iraq have targeted US bases throughout the region with drones and missile strikes. Three service members have been killed, and dozens of others have been injured. According to Fox News, there have been 130 such attacks since the Iranian-backed Hamas launched its massacre on October 7th. The IRGC has also launched ballistic missiles into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.

The situation in the Middle East remains precarious as Iranian-backed forces attack United States bases and interests in the region. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.