Yemen’s Houthis training to invade Israel, but need a way to get there – report

Yemeni journalist tells Israeli network that attack drills using mockup of Israeli town Dimona are fully serious, and also aim to prepare for potential defense against US, allies

Screen capture from undated video of Houthi forces purportedly training to attack the Israeli city of Dimona, 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from undated video of Houthi forces purportedly training to attack the Israeli city of Dimona, 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have in recent months carried out a series of training exercises to prepare for a potential invasion of Israel, with a local Yemeni journalist telling Israel’s Kan public broadcaster that the maneuvers are being carried out seriously.

The broadcaster aired footage of Houthi forces in a live fire exercise it said was training to conquer the southern city of Dimona in Israel.

Armed men were seen running house to house in a large mockup of an urban area that included over a dozen two-story buildings, apparently to represent the kind of apartment buildings the Houthis envision attacking.

According to the report, the terror group has held many similar exercises in recent months against the background of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A local journalist in Yemen, speaking to Kan on condition of anonymity, said he had spoken to some of those who participated in the exercises and they reported that they are engaged in serious preparation.

The journalist noted that the drills are also aimed at preparing for any direct confrontation with the US, UK, UAE, Israel or any other military force that they believe could attack them.

Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched repeated drone and missile strikes against Israel and in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden since November in what they say is a show of support for Palestinians, as the Israel-Hamas war continues.

Israel’s offensive against the terror group began on October 7 when thousands of Hamas gunmen invaded Israel’s south, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages.

The Houthis say the strikes are in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014 and control large swaths of the country, are part of  Iran’s “axis of resistance” against Israel along with Hamas — which is also sponsored by Tehran.

The Kan report included an undated recording of Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi saying that 296,000 people have undergone training and that the Houthi army can muster 350,000 fighters. He also claimed that the Houthis have carried out 719 training exercises although in the recording he didn’t specify for what purpose.

Yemen is 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) from Israel. Kan also played a recording of Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi saying that a request had been made to the countries between Yemen and Israel that they “open land passages for the movement of hundreds of thousands of my people in order to carry out jihad in Palestine.”

Al-Houthi noted that no country has responded to the request.

Screen capture from video of former Houthi official Ali Al Bukhaiti, speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, June, 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Former Houthi senior official Ali Al Bukhaiti told Kan that the threats to invade Israel are a propaganda exercise rather than a realistic plan, as the Houthis have no navy to carry the troops to Israel and the countries in between won’t let them pass through.

It is, he said, “ridiculous” to imagine the Houthis carrying out a major invasion by sea, considering the air and naval military power that Israel wields.

UK-based Bukhaiti, a former spokesman for the Houthis who left the group after becoming disillusioned with it, said the Houthis had taken encouragement from the widespread reporting in the Arab and Muslim world of their threats to attack cities in Israel, which gained them praise and support.

He added that the rebel group has no compunction against bombing civilians.

“They are not restrained from killing tens of thousands of people,” Bukhaiti said. “They have already killed thousands of civilians.”

He noted the Houthis are not worried about the consequences of any attack they may carry out, even if it draws massive retribution, believing the citizens of Yemen will weather whatever befalls the country.

In January, Bukhaiti warned that eventually the Houthis will try to strike Tel Aviv.

The Houthis are currently engaging in an recruitment drive to build their manpower and tying the effort to support for the Palestinians, Kan reported.

Screen capture from video of anti-Israel signs in the Yemen capital, Sanaa, June 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Also, on Sunday, Channel 12 broadcast footage filmed for the network by a person inside Yemen who opposes the regime.

The person, who greeted Channel 12 and Israelis in the videos, recorded footage from mass marches in Kahlan al-Sharaf district held in support of the Palestinians during which chants of “Death to America, Death to Israel” could be heard.

Filming in the capital Sanaa, the person said, “The economic situation is very bad and there is a fear of outbreaks and disturbances in the streets due to the economic situation. People are already tired and oppose wars, people are discouraged” and worried that even if the ongoing civil war in the country is resolved, “Yemen may enter into another war with America and Israel.”

But, he said, “the supporters of the Houthis are interested in war, even if the entire nation is killed and everything is destroyed.”

Asked to provide visual evidence of the animosity to Israel, the person showed signs near Sanaa University reading “Boycott American and Israeli products” and a Houthi flag on which was written “Death to America, Death to Israel” and “God’s curse on the Jews.”

“It is everywhere,” the person said.

On Monday Israel’s air defense systems intercepted a missile apparently fired by the Houthis at the southern port city of Eilat.

The Israel Defense Forces said the surface-to-surface missile, fired “from the direction of the Red Sea,” was headed toward Israel, likely aimed for Eilat, when it was shot down using the advanced Arrow system.

The IDF has described past attacks from Yemen as “from the Red Sea direction.”

The Iran-backed group did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack.

There were no reports of injuries.

The Houthis have fired several ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones at Eilat in solidarity with the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of the Iran-backed group’s projectiles have been intercepted by Israeli air defenses or missed their target. Only one Houthi projectile, a cruise missile, struck Israel, hitting an open area near Eilat.

In the Red Sea, the Houthis have fired on commercial and military ships dozens of times since November.

The Houthis say they are targeting ships over Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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