Houthi rebels (Ansar Allah) backed by the Iranian government, United States government
The U.S. Defense Department released a statement to the press that a MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down by the Iranian-backed Houthi Rebels while operating over international waters and within international airspace. Yemen is situated between the Gulf of Aden to the south and the Red Sea to the west.
Since the outbreak of the Israeli - Hamas war on 07/10/2023 the U.S has expanded their presence in the region to deter a larger-scale conflict. Iran and its allies have issued warnings of potential retaliation if Israel does not cease its attack on Gaza. The U.S. has relocated military resources such as aircraft carriers, Marines, and support vessels to the Middle East. Some of these ships are present in the Red Sea.
The MQ-9 Reaper shootdown occurred 3 weeks after the USS Carney intercepted multiple missiles and drone attacks launched by the Houthi rebels as they moved northward over the Red Sea. Together with the IDF, the ship reportedly intercepted 4 cruise missiles and 15 drones targeted at Israel. On 31/10/2023, Israel intercepted a surface-to-surface long-range ballistic missile and two cruise missiles that were fired by the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It was Israel's first-ever (public) operational use of the Arrow (missile family) system for intercepting ballistic missiles.
The MQ-9 shootdown took place hours after the U.S. President Biden gave the order to launch F-15E Strike Eagles to conduct an airstrike against a weapon storage facility in Syria that belongs to a different group of Iranian backed rebels.
MQ-9 Reaper effect on Civil Aviation in the area
It is unclear whether the MQ-9 Reaper was on a surveillance mission or armed for attack/reconnaissance, as the drone can carry a variety of armaments, including missiles and laser-guided bombs. After the recent drone and missile attacks by the Houthi Rebels out of Yemen aimed at Israel, it is highly likely that U.S. forces keep a close look at the developments in Yemen regarding attacks aimed at Israel and U.S. assets in the region.
The MQ-9 was most likely shot down by the Yemeni “Fater-1” SAM, which is based on the Soviet SA-6 SAM. The Yemeni “Fater-1” SAM, poses a threat to Civil Aviation and the potential for mis-identification by Houti Rebel forces. However there are no major airways in the vicinity of Yemen airspace that are used nowadays by Civil Aviation.
Houthi Rebels ‘Ansar Allah’
The Ansar Allah is an Islamist political and armed organization that emerged from the Yemeni governorate of Saada in the 1990s. The Ansar Allah is a predominantly Zaidi Shia force, whose leadership is drawn largely from the Houthi tribe. They are financially backed and militarily supplied by Iran and North-Korea. The Ansar Allah flag and slogan reads "God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, Cursed be the Jews, Victory to Islam".
Since 2015, the Houthi have been engaged in a conflict against the Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen, which aims to establish full territorial control by the internationally recognized government within Yemen. Additionally, the Islamic State militant group has targeted various major parties involved in the conflict, including the Houthi, forces loyal to former president Saleh, the Yemeni government, and the Saudi Arabian–led coalition forces. The Houthis seek to govern all of Yemen and align themselves with anti-imperialist movements against the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. They have carried out multiple missile and drone attacks against Saudi cities. The conflict is widely viewed as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war, the Houthis have also initiated drone and missile strikes against Israeli cities.