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Houthi Attacks and Global Implications

The Red Sea, a pivotal maritime passage, has recently become a hotspot due to the alarming attacks on cargo ships orchestrated by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. These assaults have triggered a cascade of consequences, prompting concern not only regionally but also globally. Understanding the Houthis, the significance of the Red Sea, and the far-reaching impacts of these attacks is crucial in deciphering the complexity of this escalating issue.

Who Are the Houthis?

The Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah, emerged as a political and military force in Yemen, primarily from the Zaidi Shia Muslim community. They gained prominence in the wake of Yemen’s tumultuous political landscape after the Arab Spring and have been engaged in a protracted conflict against the Yemeni government, who are backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Houthis are in control of much of western Yemen, including the capital, and have a large coast off the Red Sea. [1]

It is widely thought that Iran funds them to act as a proxy in the region against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been in a war with the Houthis since 2015 with tens of thousands of civilian lives lost. However, in a 2023 deal mediated by China, a deal was signed by the Saudis and Iran in hopes of stabilising the Yemen crisis and the Middle East as a whole. [2]

Importance of the Red Sea

The Red Sea serves as a vital maritime route, facilitating the passage of nearly 10% of global trade. With over 12% of seaborne crude oil and 10% of liquefied natural gas passing through its waters, any disruption in this corridor has profound implications for the global economy. Its strategic significance is underscored by the fact that more than 25,000 ships transit through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait annually. Any disruption to this route will cause an increase in the cost of shipping and will be passed on to the consumer in the form of inflated prices for their goods. [3].

Goals of the Houthis and Effects on Israel

The Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea are purportedly part of their broader strategy aimed at pressuring Israel to declare a ceasefire in their bombardment of Gaza. “Even if America succeeds in mobilising the entire world, our military operations will not stop … no matter the sacrifices it costs us,” a senior Houthi official, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, said in a post on X [4].

These assaults not only disrupt global trade but also impact Israel’s economic stability. With Israel’s reliance on the Red Sea for trade, any disruption can lead to significant economic setbacks. Dr. Elyakim BenHakoun, a scholar specialising in Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion Institute of Technology, underscores the significance of maritime transportation for Israel. He notes, “About 99% of goods (in terms of cargo volume) reach Israel by sea, and around 40% of the cargo arriving in Israel passes through the Suez Canal.” [5].

Global Consequences

The repercussions of these attacks extend far beyond regional tensions. They disrupt the flow of goods, affecting supply chains globally. Reports suggest delays in cargo shipments, increased insurance costs, and a growing sense of uncertainty among international businesses relying on the Red Sea route. The economic toll is significant, with estimations pointing toward billions of dollars in losses.

While the Houthis claim that they will only target ships going to Israel, insurance premiums on all ships travelling through the Red Sea have soared 5 to 7 times their value compared to last December [6]. As a result, major shipping firms including the Mediterranean Shipping Company, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and the oil company BP have all stated that they are abandoning the Red Sea route. Many companies have opted to go around the Cape of Good Hope which is an old shipping route to get to Europe by sailing around Africa. This route, which was frequently used before the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, will add 40% to the journey time with a near-proportional increase in costs due to fuel demands. [6]

In reaction to these incidents, an international coalition called Operation Prosperity Guardian has been initiated by several countries, including the US, the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles, and Spain. This coalition aims to restore stability and ensure security in the region for uninterrupted trade. Recently, the UK Royal Navy deployed the HMS Diamond, which is armed with the Sea Viper anti-air missile system, to bolster the international naval force’s capabilities, particularly in air defence. [1, 6]

In conclusion, the Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea have emerged as a pressing concern with multifaceted implications. Understanding the Houthis’ motivations, the strategic importance of the Red Sea, and the widespread ramifications of these assaults is crucial for a comprehensive view of the current assault in Palestine.

[1] Who are the Houthi rebels and why are they attacking Red Sea ships? (2023). BBC News. [online] 22 Dec. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67614911 [Accessed 24 Dec. 2023].

[2] BBC (2021). Yemen crisis: Why is there a war? BBC News. [online] 2 Nov. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29319423.

[3] United States Institute of Peace. (n.d.). Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea Disrupt Global Supply Chains. [online] Available at: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/12/houthi-attacks-red-sea- disrupt-global-supply-chains [Accessed 24 Dec. 2023].

[4] Al Jazeera. (n.d.). Yemen’s Houthis ‘will not stop’ Red Sea attacks until Israel ends Gaza war. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/12/19/yemens-houthis-will-not-stop- red-sea-attacks-until-israel-stops-gaza-war [Accessed 24 Dec. 2023].

[5] ctech. (2023). Half of shipping routes to Israel through Red Sea halted due to Houthi threat. [online] Available at: https://www.calcalistech.com/ctechnews/article/bjhjmbn8t [Accessed 24 Dec. 2023].

[6] www.argusmedia.com. (2023). Red Sea war risk premiums soar | Argus Media. [online] Available at: https://www.argusmedia.com/en//news/2521129-red-sea-war-risk-premiums-soar [Accessed 24 Dec. 2023].