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March 2, 2024

Missile Attacks in Red Sea Raise Tensions Between Houthis and US-led Coalition

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Jan 17, 2024

Houthis Launch Attacks on International Shipping, Prompting Retaliatory Strikes

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have dramatically escalated attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea over the past week, firing multiple missiles at vessels and prompting retaliatory strikes from the United States and allied forces.

On January 15th, the Houthis launched missiles at a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker and a Saudi Arabian warship in the Red Sea, according to Houthi-run media. The missiles reportedly missed their targets. This followed an attack on January 8th against a United Arab Emirates logistics ship. [1]

In response, the US and UK conducted a series of airstrikes against Houthi military facilities and weapons caches on January 12th. Officials said the strikes were intended to degrade the Houthis’ ability to carry out attacks and cut off supplies of Iranian-made weapons. [2]

However, the strikes do not appear to have deterred the Houthis. On January 16th, the rebels claimed another missile attack, this time hitting a Malta-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Hodeidah. The ship’s owners reported an explosion on board and said they suspected a missile strike. [3]

Escalating Tensions Raise Supply Chain, Oil Market Fears

The attacks have raised alarms in the shipping industry and revived concerns about freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, a critical global trade route. Some tanker owners have already ordered vessels to avoid the area or imposed surcharges for traversing the Red Sea. [4]

Analysts say the shipping disruptions could ripple through supply chains already strained by the pandemic, driving up costs for manufacturers and ultimately consumers. Additionally, uncertainty in the region has pushed up global oil prices amid worries of potential disruptions. Brent crude topped $80 per barrel after the latest attack. [5]

“This is an extremely worrying development that threatens global trade,” said maritime analyst Rockford Weitz. “If the attacks continue, we could see companies avoid the Suez Canal and divert shipments around the southern tip of Africa, adding weeks to transit times.”

Houthis Vow to Continue Attacks “Until the Siege is Lifted”

The Houthis have vowed to keep up assaults on shipping in the Red Sea as long as the Saudi-led coalition maintains its blockade on Yemeni ports under the rebels’ control.

“We will continue targeting more enemy ships and sites in the Red Sea until the siege is lifted,” said Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree after the January 16th attack. [6]

The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government, imposed tightened naval restrictions on Houthi-held ports last December. The coalition said the move was aimed at preventing arms smuggling from Iran, but the Houthis decried it as an act of aggression and collective punishment. [7]

Humanitarian groups have also warned that the naval blockade is worsening food shortages and could tip Yemen into a devastating famine. More than 19 million Yemenis currently lack reliable access to adequate food – numbers the UN says could rise under tighter restrictions. [8]

But so far, appeals for deescalation have made little progress. Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi recently delivered a defiant speech, saying Yemenis would not bend to “American-British-Zionist blackmail.” Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition has shown no signs of easing the blockade. [9]

Will Latest Strikes Stem Weapon Transfers to Houthis?

It remains unclear whether the US and allied strikes on January 12th managed to degrade the Houthis’ arsenal and attack capabilities.

Unnamed Biden administration officials told reporters the strikes destroyed key Houthi sites like missile launch pads and weapons storage facilities. They said the attacks could hamper the Houthis’ ability to stage attacks for weeks or longer. [10]

Independent experts are more skeptical. While the strikes likely destroyed some stockpiles, they say shipments of Iranian missiles and drones continue to reach the Houthis through well-established smuggling routes that are difficult to interdict.

“Past strikes haven’t stopped the weapons transfers, and I doubt this time will be any different,” said Elana DeLozier, a Yemen specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Houthis are well-supplied for now.” [11]

Before Strikes After Strikes
Multiple active missile launch sites Some launch sites destroyed but extent unclear
Large stockpiles of missiles and explosives Some caches destroyed but smuggling continues
Frequent attacks on shipping Attacks have continued

Others analysts cautioned that even precision strikes often kill civilians and could strengthen Houthi support among Yemenis. Targeting crowded urban areas where missile launchers are concealed risks significant collateral damage. [12]

“These retaliatory strikes could end up inflicting widespread casualties and boosting recruitment for the Houthis,” said Yemen expert Hisham Al-Omeisy. “That would be a dangerous and counterproductive outcome.”

Outlook: Attacks Could Provoke Wider Conflict

With missile attacks persisting despite reprisals, tensions between the Houthis and the western coalition remain dangerously high. There are growing fears on all sides that miscalculation could spark a wider regional conflagration.

The Houthis likely see maritime attacks as an effective way to pressure Saudi Arabia and bypass direct confrontation with superior US and coalition forces. However, further missile strikes risk triggering an overwhelming response.

For its part, the Biden administration insists it wants to avoid being dragged into another Middle East quagmire. But the Houthis’ suspected ties to Iran raise the stakes, as attacks threaten to disrupt key oil shipping lanes at a time of high energy prices. [13]

That leaves little room for compromise as both sides seem determined to stand firm. Unless cooler heads prevail, the Red Sea could be headed for further bloodshed.

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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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