The leader of Yemen’s Houthi militia declared on Thursday that a direct clash with the United States will only strengthen the group, and vowed to continue attacking ships in the Red Sea.
The Houthis have always emerged stronger from confrontations with their enemies, the militia’s leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, said in a televised speech, a day after the U.S. military carried out airstrikes on Houthi military sites for the fourth time in a week.
“We praise god for this great blessing and great honor — for us to be in a direct confrontation with Israel and America,” he said.
In the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, the Houthi militia — an Iran-backed group that controls much of northern Yemen — has propelled itself into an unlikely global spotlight by sowing chaos in the Red Sea, attacking commercial ships and hobbling global trade. The group has portrayed its campaign of missile and drone attacks as a righteous battle to force Israel to end its siege of Gaza, although many of its targets have had no clear connection to Israel.
In an attempt to deter the attacks, the United States has led a series of airstrikes in Yemen, but the Houthis have not backed down. Instead, they have expanded their list of declared targets to include American and British interests in the region.
The Houthis’ stance “won’t be changed by intimidation, criminality or any type of pressure,” Mr. al-Houthi said in his speech.
Nor did the strikes affect the Houthis’ military capabilities, he said, arguing that was a “delusion.”
Two U.S. officials cautioned on Saturday that even after the strikes hit more than 60 missile and drone targets with more than 150 precision-guided munitions, they had damaged or destroyed only about 20 to 30 percent of the Houthis’ offensive capability, much of which is mounted on mobile platforms and can be readily moved or hidden.
The two U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
“We confirm to the whole world that as it continues, the American-British aggression will contribute more and more to developing our military capabilities even further,” Mr. al-Houthi said.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration said that it would designate the militia as a terrorist organization, partly reimposing penalties on the group that it lifted nearly three years ago. The move would block the Houthis’ access to the global financial system, among other restrictions.
In his speech, Mr. al-Houthi dismissed the designation as “funny.” He castigated the United States for its role in supporting a 2015 military intervention in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, which attempted to defeat the Houthis but instead precipitated a nine-year civil war.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Yemen died from fighting, hunger and disease. The Saudi-led coalition began to pull back several years ago — partly because of U.S. and international pressure over the deepening humanitarian crisis — leaving the Houthis in power in northern Yemen.
“Did the Americans not oversee the aggression on our country for nine years?” Mr. al-Houthi said. “Then they come and classify those whom they attack — and whom they wrong, and whom they kill unjustly — as terrorists?”