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February 22, 2024

Houthi Drone Boat Attacks Escalate Tensions in Vital Red Sea Shipping Lanes

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Jan 5, 2024

Houthi rebels in Yemen have dramatically escalated attacks on commercial and military vessels transiting the Red Sea over the past two months. The attacks, carried out using explosive-laden drone boats, have disrupted global trade and prompted warnings of military action from the US and its allies.

Recent Attacks Bring Shipping to a Halt

On December 31st, a Houthi drone boat detonated near a commercial tanker off the coast of Yemen, in the latest of over two dozen such attacks in the Red Sea since November. While no ships appear to have suffered significant damage in that incident, it comes on the heels of a November 8th drone boat attack that struck and damaged a Greek oil tanker.

The repeated Houthi attacks have brought shipping through the critical Bab al-Mandab strait, which connects the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, to a virtual standstill. Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, has halted Red Sea transits until further notice. Other firms are extending pauses on Red Sea shipping as the attacks show no signs of letting up.

Date Incident
Nov. 8 Houthi drone boat strikes and damages Greek oil tanker
Dec. 31 Houthi drone boat detonates near commercial tanker off Yemen coast

US and Allies Warn of Military Action

In response to the growing Houthi threat against one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, the US and its allies have warned of severe consequences if the attacks do not cease immediately.

Hours after the December 31st Houthi drone boat attack, ships from the US Navy, France, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE launched retaliatory strikes on Houthi coastal radar and weapons facilities. The Pentagon called the sites “enabled threats against shipping and regional security.”

US Central Command and allies also issued a statement warning of further “defensive measures” if Houthi aggression in the Red Sea does not cease immediately:

“We will continue to work together to defend freedom of navigation and trade…We are prepared to respond decisively alongside our partners to defend these principles now and into the future.”

Admiral Brad Cooper, who heads US naval forces in the Middle East, told reporters that while no military options have been taken off the table, the US wants to avoid further escalation. But he cautioned that Iran bears responsibility for enabling Houthi attacks through funding and weapons supplies.

Global Trade Threatened as Attacks Continue Unabated

Up to $1 trillion worth of trade and 15% of global shipping transits through the narrow Bab al-Mandab strait each year. A closure or disruption of the waterway would force ships to take the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa, adding over a week to the journey. Analysts warn it could also lead to spikes in global energy and food prices.

The repeated Houthi drone boat attacks clearly jeopardize the security of Red Sea shipping lanes relied upon by the entire world. While damage has been minimal so far, experts say it may only be a matter of time before the explosive-laden drone boats get lucky and seriously damage or sink a commercial vessel.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis told MSNBC the attacks seem designed to disrupt shipping rather than actually sink ships, but warned the US response would become far more aggressive if a large tanker spill occurs.

“If we were to lose a supertanker in the Red Sea with millions of barrels of oil coming out, or a liquified natural gas transport ship…that would change geopolitics fundamentally.”

What Comes Next?

The US military response thus far has focused on intercepting and destroying incoming Houthi missiles and drones, while launching limited strikes on Houthi coastal infrastructure. But if attacks continue or a large spill occurs, experts say the US and allies may broaden land-based retaliation across Houthi-held territory.

However, directly striking Houthis could play into their hands by fueling anti-American resentment that boosts their influence and recruiting. It also risks sparking a dangerous regional conflict at a time when the US hopes to revive the languishing Iran nuclear deal.

Ultimately, resolving the crisis likely requires restarting UN-led peace talks and extracting some Houthi commitments around ceasing external attacks. But with the rebels continuing attacks despite US warnings, negotiating a diplomatic offramp remains unlikely in the current climate. For now, tensions seem poised to remain extraordinarily high in one of the world’s busiest and most vital waterways.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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