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US Navy Fends Off Massive Onslaught of Houthi Attacks to Ensure Safety of Red Sea Shipping Lanes

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Dec 27, 2023

The Red Sea has become the latest flashpoint in the long-running conflict in Yemen between Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized Yemeni government supported by Saudi Arabia and the United States. Over the past week, the Iran-backed Houthis have dramatically escalated attacks on international commercial shipping transiting the critical Red Sea shipping lanes. In response, the US rapidly assembled and deployed a multinational naval task force, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, to defend shipping in the region.

Timeline of Recent Events

On December 23rd, a US Navy destroyer and fighter jets intercepted and destroyed four Houthi suicide drones and two anti-ship cruise missiles targeting a commercial tanker ship near the Bab Al Mandeb strait. This attack was the fifth Houthi strike on commercial vessels in the Red Sea over the prior ten days [1].

The next day, December 24th, US Central Command confirmed that Navy warships shot down three drones and a missile launched from Houthi-held areas in Yemen [2].

On December 25th, the Navy announced that over a ten hour period it had destroyed nine drones and eight missiles targeting the destroyer USS The Sullivans [3].

Date # of Attacks Repelled
Dec 23 4 drones, 2 missiles
Dec 24 3 drones, 1 missile
Dec 25 9 drones, 8 missiles

The massive number of attempted strikes on December 25th represent a major escalation in Houthi capabilities and willingness to disrupt one of the world’s most vital shipping routes. About 10% of global trade passes through the narrow Bab Al Mandeb strait at the mouth of the Red Sea [4].

Background on the Conflict

Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa and ousted the internationally recognized government. In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to fight the Houthis and support the government. The US has provided intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi coalition. Iran denies direct involvement in the conflict but is widely believed to arm and fund the Houthis [5].

The Red Sea attacks represent a dangerous expansion of the conflict beyond Yemen’s land borders. The Houthis likely launched the attacks in retaliation for recent Israeli airstrikes against their weapons depots and to gain leverage in ongoing ceasefire negotiations [6]. By threatening global oil supplies and trade, the rebels aim to pressure their adversaries to meet their demands.

Naval Task Force Assembled to Protect Shipping

On December 21st, US Central Command announced the formation of a multinational naval partnership dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian to escort commercial shipping through the Red Sea [7].

The task force members currently include:

  • United States
  • Saudi Arabia
  • UAE
  • Oman
  • Kuwait
  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Djibouti
  • South Korea
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada

Many major shipping firms like AP Moller-Maersk had suspended Red Sea operations after the Houthi attacks. But under the naval escort provided by Operation Prosperity Guardian, companies are preparing to resume transits [8].

Impact on Global Trade and Oil

The Red Sea is one of the world’s busiest and most important shipping lanes. Each day, about 5 million barrels of crude oil plus billions in trade goods flow through the narrow Bab Al Mandeb strait [9]. Global oil prices spiked after the first attacks but have since stabilized as Operation Prosperity Guardian provides reassurance that shipping can continue safely [10].

However, longer term risks remain if rebels continue their aggression. The Red Sea route is the primary way Persian Gulf oil reaches Europe and the Mediterannean. Closures would force tankers to take the much longer route around Africa, adding great cost and delay [11].

US and Allies Condemn Iran’s Role

The US military directly blames Iran for enabling the Houthi attacks through weapons and logistical support. Leaders of the naval coalition universally condemned Iran’s dangerous role in expanding the Yemen conflict into international waters [12].

However, some analysts say Iran may not have full control or even good visibility into Houthi decision-making. The rebels likely acted aggressively both to gain leverage in ceasefire talks and to retaliate against Israeli strikes, not solely due to Iranian direction [13].

Regardless, the brazen attacks coupled with Iran’s lethal support to proxies across the region further erode prospects for reviving the nuclear deal that lifted sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

What’s Next

Operation Prosperity Guardian naval forces will maintain a defensive presence, acting as a “highway patrol” to escort commercial vessels through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden [14]. The US and allies seek to deter further rebel aggression and provide reassurance so companies will resume shipping. Saudi Arabia continues to pursue behind-the-scenes efforts to broker a ceasefire.

However, the conflict looks unlikely to abate given the Houthis’ recent attacks and ongoing Iranian weapons support. Further strikes that bypass Operation Prosperity Guardian protections would again raise the risk of supply disruptions. Such an expansion of the Yemen war into the Red Sea remains among the top global flashpoints to watch in 2023 and beyond.

Overall the sudden crisis spotlights how ongoing conflicts can flare in new fronts and endanger vital economic interests worldwide. The naval task force has so far prevented major disruptions, but risks still loom large to key global shipping routes.

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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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