Beirut, Lebanon – A US-led 10-nation coalition cannot stop Yemen’s Houthi rebels from attacking ships in the Red Sea, but both sides are keen to avoid an escalation that could spiral out of control, analysts told Al Jazeera. .
According to Houthi officials, their attacks on commercial and military vessels linked to Israel are aimed at pressuring Israel to end the war on Gaza. Houthi attacks are popular domestically in Yemen, allowing the group to recruit new fighters.
“The Houthis are not going to stop what they are doing until the Israeli offensive in Gaza ends,” Eurasia Group analyst Gregory Brew told Al Jazeera, “and even then they are likely to continue for some time.”
Israeli bombing and artillery attacks have killed more than 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7.
An ‘undervalued’ foreign exchange
On November 19, the Houthis seized an Israeli-bound cargo ship called the Galaxy Leader. Slender video Capture of ship. Later it was changed to a tourist attraction For the Yemenis. Bab al-Mandeb attacked numerous ships passing through the strait, a narrow passage into the Red Sea and further up the Suez Canal.
Account of the Red Sea and Suez Canal 30 percent Container shipping of the world.
“The Houthis’ position in northern Yemen has put them in a critical geopolitical chokehold,” Sanam Waqeel, deputy head of the Middle East North Africa Program at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera. “It has been underestimated by the international community for the last few years.”
No casualties or injuries have been reported in the Houthi attack so far. But the fallout for global shipping is even greater. At least 12 shipping companies have suspended traffic through the Red Sea in connection with the attacks, including some of the world’s largest: Italian-Swiss giant Mediterranean Shipping Company, France’s CMA CGM and Denmark’s AP Moller-Maersk.
About 12 percent of the world’s seaborne oil and eight percent of liquefied natural gas pass through the Bab al-Mandeb strait, mostly to Europe. But other commodities such as grains, palm oil and produce are also affected by attacks. Many companies instead sail around the southern tip of Africa, extending their journey to nine days and costing at least 15 percent less.
In response, the United States imposed Obstacles On the 13 financiers of the Houthis. And it has put together a 10-nation maritime alliance in an effort to thwart Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Other members include the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Seychelles and Bahrain.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which operates from Aden after a devastating nine-year war waged by the Houthis, has condemned the Red Sea offensive as a usurpation of their sovereignty. But it is in a difficult position because it does not want to be seen as a supporter of Israel, Yemen researcher Nicholas Brumfield told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Iran, the main backer of the Houthis, has been wary of taking steps that could lead to a wider regional expansion of the war in Gaza. However, there are limits to Iran’s influence over the Houthis, experts said.
“They have some shared goals with Tehran, but we should not overestimate the influence Iran has on the Houthis,” Eleonora Ardemagni, senior associate researcher at the Italian Institute for Political Studies (ISPI), told Al Jazeera. “They have their own agenda.”
Palestinian support and mobilization
Before October 7, the Houthis were under domestic pressure Unpopular government reforms and failure to pay salaries. But their support for the people of Gaza has been well received by Yemenis.
“They have long been ideologically opposed to Israel,” the lawyer said of the Houthis. “In particular, they try to demonstrate the transnational implications of their views and demonstrate power and positioning.”
According to Brumfield, Houthi state media have announced more than 1,000 protests, boycotts or recruitment drives since the start of the war. After less than a decade of civil war, many in Yemen are tired of fighting. But support for Palestine has proven so popular that the Houthis have been able to recruit new fighters — and then use them for civil war.
“They recruited a bunch of fighters on the promise to fight in Palestine,” Brumfield said. “They said, ‘You will fight in Palestine,’ and then they stationed those forces on Marib, the stronghold of the Yemeni government.”
According to some analysts, attacks in the Red Sea could also be a diplomatic strategy. In recent months, the Houthis and Saudi Arabia have been in talks aimed at a long-term ceasefire after a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in 2022, which has largely halted the fighting. Saudi Arabia supports the internationally recognized government of Yemen. Tensions in the Red Sea and potential disruptions in oil trade are affecting most regional economies, the largest of which is Saudi Arabia.
“From where they sat, [the attack on shipping vessels] “It’s an opportunity to raise the stakes against Saudi Arabia,” the lawyer said. “What we are witnessing is a little renegotiation.”
Red lines in the Red Sea
The impact on Bab al-Mandeb and global shipping through the Red Sea attracted action by the United States and other allies. But so far, that doesn’t seem to have deterred the Houthis.
“We stressed to everyone [the Houthi] “These actions are carried out to support the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and we cannot remain idle in the face of the occupation and siege,” Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdulsalam told Al Jazeera on Monday. “As for naval operations, they are in full swing, and perhaps not 12 hours pass without an operation.”
Yet despite the rhetoric, the Houthis and the US have so far maintained some control.
On November 26, the Houthis Deleted Two ballistic missiles landed near the US warship. Brumfield believes the Houthis missed the warship on purpose.
Currently, the US coalition is more intent on intercepting Houthi attacks and protecting ships transiting the Red Sea. “The United States does not want to escalate this crisis,” said Prue, the Eurasia Group analyst. Although the Houthis have fired missiles into the Red Sea, the US has not yet fired back at Yemen.
It is not in the interests of the Houthis to change that equation. “They know not to cross that line,” he said. The Houthis don’t want a situation where the United States will “cease to think of the Houthis as unsavory but tolerant rulers of northern Yemen and actually be committed to ousting them.”