Yemen’s Houthi rebels have intensified their attacks in the Red Sea, striking a nerve in the US’ strategic efforts to safeguard the region’s marine channels.
Following an attack on a Norwegian tanker that the Houthis claimed was delivering crude oil to Israel, the Iran-allied movement struck a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker en route to the critical Suez Canal.
The Houthis fired another missile at a container ship in the Bab el-Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, on Thursday.
These growing occurrences have heightened tensions along a vital global shipping route that transports roughly 10% of global trade, or $1 trillion in products, each year.
The Houthis’ intentions were emphasized by Mohammed Ali al Houthi, the commander of the faction’s supreme revolutionary committee, who urged commercial ships not to proceed to Israel and instructed warships travelling through Yemen to keep active radios and reply quickly to any communication efforts.
He also advised cargo ships against “falsifying their identity” or flying flags other than that of the shipowner’s home nation. The Houthis have clearly irritated Tel Aviv by initially displaying solidarity with the Palestinians by firing missiles and drones into southern Israel during the bombing of Gaza.
Some Israeli cargo ships have been diverted from their customary Red Sea route to a lengthier voyage across the Mediterranean Sea, past Africa, and on to the Indian Ocean. President Isaac Herzog expressed Israel’s frustration, saying the Houthis had “crossed a red line in the Red Sea” and called for a “international coalition” to fight their activities.
The scenario has significantly increased the expense of shipping across the Red Sea. While the broader economic consequences are now limited, it raises concerns about the US’s preparedness for this unprecedented projection of Houthi power in a territory it has historically worked to secure.
Last week, it was revealed that US officials were contemplating military action with unnamed Gulf powers, most likely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), due to their previous involvement in Yemen.
These suggestions imply that the US may revert to old policies in the region. Indeed, the US aided the Saudi-led coalition’s efforts to restore a friendly Yemeni government in order to ensure regional and Red Sea stability.
Despite talk about a military incursion, Yemen’s war has ceased, and Saudi Arabia no longer wishes to be involved in a conflict there. After all, its main aim is to pursue its huge economic transformation towards its Vision 2030 ambitions.