Amidst the conflict-ravaged expanse of Yemen, internet connectivity suffered a sudden and prolonged collapse last Friday. Officials later attributed the outage to unannounced “maintenance work,” occurring in the aftermath of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on both Israel and the United States.
The outage, commencing early on Friday, brought all traffic to a standstill at YemenNet, the primary service provider catering to around 10 million users. Presently under the control of Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis, YemenNet found itself at the center of this digital disruption.
The outage did not escape the notice of monitoring entities such as NetBlocks, a group specializing in tracking internet outages, and the internet services company CloudFlare. Despite their scrutiny, the precise cause of the outage remained elusive.
CloudFlare remarked, “Data shows that the issue has impacted connectivity at a national level as well,” highlighting the extent of the disruption.
Several hours later, a partial restoration of services occurred, though access continued to face challenges. Yemen’s Public Telecom Corp., in a statement to the Houthi-controlled SABA state news agency, attributed the outage to maintenance activities.
“Internet service will return after the completion of the maintenance work,” stated an unidentified official quoted in the release.
This incident follows a previous outage in January 2022, when a Saudi-led coalition, engaged in conflict with the Houthis, targeted a telecommunications building in the Red City port of Hodeida. At present, there is no indication of a similar attack.
The undersea FALCON cable, acting as the conduit for internet connectivity into Yemen via the Hodeida port along the Red Sea for TeleYemen, faced disruption. While the FALCON cable also lands in Yemen’s far eastern port of Ghaydah, the majority of Yemen’s population resides in the west along the Red Sea.
GCX, the company responsible for operating the cable, remained unresponsive to inquiries on Friday.
This internet outage occurred in the wake of a series of drone and missile attacks by the Houthis, targeting Israel amidst its campaign of airstrikes and ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Houthis claimed a strike on Thursday aimed at the Israeli port city of Eilat on the Red Sea. Additionally, they downed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone this week, heightening concerns about a potential regional conflict.
The roots of Yemen’s conflict trace back to 2014 when the Houthis seized control of Sanaa and substantial portions of the country’s north. The internationally recognized government sought refuge in the south and eventually in exile in Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi insurgency prompted intervention by a Saudi-led coalition, transforming the conflict into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the United States offering peripheral support, primarily in intelligence assistance to the kingdom.
However, international condemnation of Saudi airstrikes causing civilian casualties led to a withdrawal of U.S. support. Suspicions linger that the U.S. continues drone strikes targeting alleged members of Yemen’s local al-Qaida branch.
The toll of this prolonged conflict exceeds 150,000 lives, including both combatants and civilians, culminating in one of the most severe humanitarian crises globally. Although a ceasefire, expiring in October last year, has largely held, the Houthis appear to be gradually escalating attacks as a lasting peace remains elusive.