Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?

Analysis Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?
1 / 2
The MV Merlin Luande is one of the many cargo ships that have suffered damage in Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. (AFP)
Analysis Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?
2 / 2
Short Url
Updated 27 February 2024
Follow

Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?

Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?
  • Militia says it is acting in solidarity with Palestinians, but it appears to be profiting in other ways
  • Security experts say current Western military response may be playing into the hands of Houthis

LONDON: The campaign of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi fighters on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden continues, despite renewed US and UK strikes on their positions, leading to fears about the long-term security of these strategically important waterways.

The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia as it appears to be gaining strength, in terms of weaponry and fighters, and confidence in its ability to cause global trade disruptions.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last week, Rashad Al-Alimi, chair of the Presidential Leadership Council of the UN-backed Yemeni government, said the Houthis had irrevocably altered the region’s geopolitical contours.




The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

“The Red Sea will continue to be a source of tension, ready to explode at any political turn, as long as the Houthis control coastal regions,” he added.

“To end Houthi piracy, we must address its origin and source. This can only be accomplished by restoring state institutions, ending the coup, and applying maximum pressure on Iran.”

The Houthi militia is part of the “axis of resistance,” a loose network of Iran-backed proxy militias throughout the region that includes the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and several Shiite groups in Iraq.

When the Houthis began attacking commercial shipping in November, they claimed they were only targeting vessels with links to Israel in an attempt to pressure the Israeli government to end its military operation against Hamas in Gaza.

However, Houthi drones, missiles and acts of piracy have been launched against several ships with no ties to Israel. In fact, in recent weeks Yemeni ships, and even vessels belonging to Houthi-allied Iran, have come under attack.

According to a tally by the Associated Press news agency, the Houthis have carried out at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19. US Central Command has even identified the use of a Houthi-operated submarine drone.

In response to these attacks, many of the world’s biggest freight companies have redirected their vessels from the Suez Canal route to the Mediterranean, thereby avoiding the Red Sea, and instead are using much longer and more expensive routes via the Cape of Good Hope.




The Houthis have carried out at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19. (AFP)

Simon Evenett, founder of nonprofit organization the St. Gallen Endowment for Prosperity Through Trade, said that while shipping costs have risen, they are still “well below” their pandemic-era peaks. He also noted that some freight companies had simply continued to traverse the waterways of the Red Sea despite the risk of attack.

“The New York Fed’s index of Global Supply Chain Pressure has barely moved,” Evenett told Arab News. “Important as it is, just 11 percent of global trade flows through the Red Sea. This isn’t enough to disrupt the world economy.

“What’s harder to assess is whether yet more upheaval in trade routes further undermines policymakers’ and corporate trust in long-distance sourcing. A further nudge towards national and regional sourcing can be expected.”

To prevent disruption to trade, protect mariners and uphold the right to freedom of navigation, the US-led patrol mission, Operation Prosperity Guardian, was established in December. When the Houthi attacks persisted, the US and UK launched strikes against militia targets in Yemen.

In a joint statement on Feb. 24, the US and the UK said their military forces struck 18 Houthi sites across eight locations in Yemen, including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.




The Houthi militia is part of the “axis of resistance,” a loose network of Iran-backed proxy militias throughout the region. (AFP)

The operation was the fourth time the US and UK had carried out joint attacks against the Houthis since Jan. 12. The US has also carried out almost daily operations against Houthi targets, including incoming missiles, rockets and drones targeting vessels.

These Western strikes have done little to stem the tide of attacks, however. On Feb. 19, the Houthis mounted one of their most damaging assaults yet, on the Belize-flagged Rubymar, carrying cargo from the UAE to Bulgaria, forcing its crew to abandon ship.

Indeed, far from curtailing the activities of the Houthis, their popularity in Yemen appears to have grown since the shipping attacks began, with thousands of recruits reportedly joining their ranks.

If its intent was to force a swift Houthi climbdown, the Western military response has so far borne little fruit. The Houthis seem only too keen to up the ante, with their leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi stating “we will also attack with submarine weapons.”

However, in a message posted recently on social media platform X, the militia said: “What the world is impatiently waiting for is not the militarization of the Red Sea, but rather an urgent and comprehensive declaration of ceasefire in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons that are clear to anyone.

“There is no danger to international or European navigation so long as there are no aggressive operations, and thus, there is no need to militarize the Red Sea.”




In a joint statement on Feb. 24, the US and the UK said their military forces struck 18 Houthi sites across eight locations in Yemen. (Getty Images/AFP)

Not everyone is convinced that securing a ceasefire in Gaza will end the Houthi attacks on shipping. Like Al-Alimi, those with such concerns want the international community to take the worst-case scenario more seriously and take preventive action now.

Raiman Al-Hamdani, a researcher at social enterprise organization Ark, agreed that attacks are likely to continue after the war, but in the form of piracy in a “push to monetize their presence” in the seas off the coast of Yemen.

“This could mean attacking commercial vessels in the future, albeit not to the extent that we are seeing today,” he told Arab News, adding that the Houthis could begin demanding taxes from vessels passing through Bab Al-Mandab Strait in return for not striking them.

Farea Al-Muslimi, a research fellow at Chatham House, likewise believes the Houthis have hit upon an opportunity to raise revenues from passing vessels.

“They will, of course, try to make deals and there are already countries that are looking for waivers,” Al-Muslimi told Arab News.

“But there are several problems with this, one of which is that were they to escalate the crisis in the Red Sea, it would not be safe for anyone.

“As you can see, they have already attacked ships linked to Yemen and vessels belonging to their own ally, Iran, so any escalation of this will not be a clean battle.”

Some countries, including regional states, have called for a more measured response to the attacks, rather than military action that might inflame tensions in the region.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry recently expressed “deep concern over the escalation of military operations in the Red Sea and the airstrikes that were directed at a number of sites in Yemen.” It called for a “united international and regional effort to reduce tension and instability in the region, including navigation security.”




US Central Command has identified the use of a Houthi-operated submarine drone. (AFP)

It added: “The dangerous and escalating developments taking place are a clear indication of what we’ve repeatedly warned against regarding the dangers of expanding the conflict in the region as a result of the continued Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip.”

Security experts have also said the military response might prove counterproductive, with concerns that it could play into the hands of the Houthis, who have sought to present themselves as defenders of Gaza who are standing up to Israel and its Western allies.

Al-Hamdani believes the attacks on shipping serve several purposes for the Houthis: to help recruit new followers, distract from domestic problems, burnish support among the population, and to strengthen the militia’s negotiating position in the ongoing Yemen peace process.

Al-Muslimi believes the Houthis have “already capitalized on it as much as they could politically,” suggesting the attacks will likely stop when the war in Gaza ends.


The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

However, he said the regional calculus has changed as a result of the Houthi onslaught and the broader context in the region since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel that sparked the conflict in Gaza, increasing the chances the Middle East could be plunged into a wider war.

“Nothing in the Middle East will be the same after Oct. 7, and this includes how the world views Yemen, how the world views the Red Sea,” said Al-Muslimi.

“That applies to everything and everywhere. That is how much of an influence it has had. That is how much it has spilled over.”


Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
Updated 40 min 50 sec ago
Follow

Iran says it gave warning before attacking Israel. US says that’s not true

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (L) and US President Joe Biden. (Agencies)
  • Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike against Israel
  • Washington says did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance

WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD/DUBAI: Turkish, Jordanian and Iraqi officials said on Sunday that Iran gave wide notice days before its drone and missile attack on Israel, but US officials said Tehran did not warn Washington and that it was aiming to cause significant damage.
Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles on Saturday in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria.
Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory, though a young girl was critically injured and there were widespread concerns of further escalation.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that Iran gave neighboring countries and Israel’s ally the United States 72 hours’ notice it would launch the strikes.
Turkiye’s Foreign Ministry said it had spoken to both Washington and Tehran before the attack, adding it had conveyed messages as an intermediary to be sure reactions were proportionate.
“Iran said the reaction would be a response to Israel’s attack on its embassy in Damascus and that it would not go beyond this. We were aware of the possibilities. The developments were not a surprise,” said a Turkish diplomatic source.
One senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration denied Amirabdollahian’s statement, saying Washington did have contact with Iran through Swiss intermediaries but did not get notice 72 hours in advance.
“That is absolutely not true,” the official said. “They did not give a notification, nor did they give any sense of ... ‘these will be the targets, so evacuate them.’“
Tehran sent the United States a message only after the strikes began and the intent was to be “highly destructive” said the official, adding that Iran’s claim of a widespread warning may be an attempt to compensate for the lack of any major damage from the attack.
“We received a message from the Iranians as this was ongoing, through the Swiss. This was basically suggesting that they were finished after this, but it was still an ongoing attack. So that was (their) message to us,” the US official said.
Iraqi, Turkish and Jordanian officials each said Iran had provided early warning of the attack last week, including some details.
The attack with drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles risked causing major casualties and escalating the conflict.
US officials said on Friday and Saturday they expected an imminent attack and urged Iran against one, with Biden tersely saying his only message to Tehran was: “Don’t.”

ESCALATION
Two Iraqi sources, including a government security adviser and a security official, said Iran had used diplomatic channels to inform Baghdad about the attack at least three days before it happened.
The exact timing of the attack was not disclosed at that point, but was passed to Iraqi security and military authorities hours before the strikes, allowing Baghdad to close its airspace and avoid fatal accidents.
“The government clearly understood from the Iranian officials that the US military in Iraq was also aware of the attack in advance,” said the Iraqi security official.
A senior Jordanian official said Iran had summoned Arab envoys in Tehran on Wednesday to inform them of their intention to carry out an attack, though it did not specify the timing.
Asked if Iran had also given details about the targets and kind of weapons to be used, the Jordanian source did not respond directly but indicated that that was the case.
An Iranian source briefed on the matter said Iran had informed the US through diplomatic channels that included Qatar, Turkiye and Switzerland about the scheduled day of the attack, saying it would be conducted in a manner to avoid provoking a response.
How far escalation can be avoided remains in question. Biden has told Israel the United States will not join any Israeli retaliation, the US official said.
However, Israel is still weighing its response and will “exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” Israeli minister Benny Gantz said on Sunday.

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The first direct attack on Israel by Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.
While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.
Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.
But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop no.

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

“I think it was quite scary when we started hearing booming in the middle of the night, and we did not know what it was. I mean, we knew what it was, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.
“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet, and we hope it will continue that way.”
Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, which killed 13 people. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.
Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.
Iran warned Israel and the US on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.
The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the US into the conflict has put the region on edge.
Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation, but with the stakes so high, they are nervous despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.
“I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.
“I imagine Israel will respond because, I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”
Before the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and to close some beaches and travel sites.
“We didn’t want the war with Hamas. They attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.
“We don’t want a war with Iran. They, somehow, cannot accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland. It’s written in the Bible.”
The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry figures.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.


Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
Updated 15 April 2024
Follow

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah

Israel army says Hamas holding hostages in Gaza’s Rafah
  • The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory

JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday that Hamas is holding hostages in Rafah in southern Gaza, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to launch a ground invasion despite international outcry.
“Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza... We also have hostages in Rafah, and we will do everything we can to bring them back home,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a briefing.
In a separate statement, the army said it was calling “approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front.”
It did not specify whether the brigades would be deployed inside Gaza.
The move comes just days after the army pulled out all troops from southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, leaving just one brigade to carry out operations across the Palestinian territory.