The “USS Carney” guided-missile destroyer defeats a combination of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea on Oct. 19, 2023. Credit: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Lau.
James Sinkinson (FLAME via JNS)
Late last week—and relatively late in the game—the United States and Britain responded militarily against the Houthis of Yemen, finally indicating that such jihadi belligerence will not go unanswered.
Behind the Houthi attacks on commercial ships of 40 different nations passing through the Red Sea—which the Islamist Shi’ite group falsely claims were all connected to Israel—sits puppeteer Iran, which also sponsors terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Until now, the West has been reluctant to strike back over the Houthis’ disruption of global shipping, apparently in deference to the as-yet unsuccessful American attempts to reach a nuclear disarmament deal with Iran.
Even as Israel continues its battle to eliminate Hamas from Gaza, the Houthis say their aggression in the Red Sea is meant to support their fellow jihadis. However, by striking this key shipping chokepoint, the Houthis are not only threatening a major Israeli supply route, but also the world economy.
Like Hamas, the Houthis are well-armed and financed by Iran. Also like Hamas, they regard both Israel and the United States as sworn enemies. Their official motto is, “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory to Islam.”
While the Houthis have been attacking neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for years, they now rise above a strictly local menace, since they threaten to decimate global trade, creating losses of billions of dollars.
Given the tepid U.S. and Western response to this growing Houthi threat heretofore, we should wonder if these allies will seriously follow through. Do they have the determination to neutralize the Houthi—and Iranian—threat definitively?
The Oct. 7 massacre proved that Hamas could not be deterred by simple containment. Ultimately, Israel had to go on the offensive and remove the terrorist group from its midst.
Similarly, the Houthis will not be deterred by defensive efforts. The United States and its allies will surely need to take continued military action to show them and Iran there is a heavy price to pay for destabilizing the world’s economy.
Failure by the West to exact a high, painful cost from the Houthis will only encourage Iran to expand its efforts to seize greater hegemony in the Middle East at the expense of the United States and its allies.
The Houthis already have a history of endangering U.S. allies in the region, as well as the world economy. They have been attacking Saudi Arabia and the UAE since the 2010s. In fact, the Houthis have launched more than 1,000 attacks against Saudi Arabia in recent years.
Targets have included the capital Riyadh, airports and oil installations. In September 2019, Houthi attacks resulted in Saudi Arabia losing about half its output capacity, which is significant as the Saudis supply 13% of the world’s oil.
The Houthis have the ability to inflict major damage to Israel and the global economy. They have repeatedly launched drones and missiles at Eilat, Israel’s southern port. As a result, Eilat has seen an 85% drop in activity, according the port’s chief executive. By attacking ships bound for Israel, the Houthis can severely damage the Jewish state’s economy as 99% of goods (in terms of cargo volume) reach Israel by sea.
Many of the Houthi assaults on ships have occurred in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which ships traveling between Europe and Asia must traverse unless they take the much longer, alternative route around southern Africa. Some 15% of global commerce flows through Bab al-Mandeb and the Suez Canal daily, including 30% of container traffic. Some 20% of the world’s oil also travels through the strait. It is estimated that if the Houthis were to close the Bab el-Mandeb entirely, the global economy would lose $6 billion a day.
The Houthis have already made shipping costs and insurance premiums skyrocket. According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 20% of the world’s container ships are avoiding the Red Sea. A senior U.S. military official said that the Houthi attacks on shipping were at a scale not seen in “two generations.”
The Houthis’ actions in the Red Sea bear Iran’s signature. The Houthis are part of the “Axis of Resistance,” a term denoting all of Iran’s proxies in the Middle East, including Hamas and Hezbollah. The leaders of the proxy groups have claimed in interviews that their close coordination with each other today is unparalleled.
Proxies like the Houthis are part of Iran’s strategy of attacking its enemies while simultaneously avoiding direct involvement in conflict that could lead to a regional war. Yet Iran clearly provides the weapons and intelligence the Houthis use to attack ships in the Red Sea.
Until last week’s attack on targets in Yemen, the Western response to Houthi belligerence had been half-hearted. Biden has also prevented Israel from attacking the terrorist group. Moreover, ironically, shortly after his election, Biden removed the Houthis from the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.
Belatedly, last month Biden announced the creation of an alliance of countries to protect Red Sea shipping. But notably, this alliance excludes key Arab allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and of course, Israel. While recent U.S. and U.K. military strikes on Friday and Saturday hit some 60 targets in 28 sites, it’s unclear how seriously the Houthis’ military capability was damaged—and the group threatened retaliation.
One thing is clear: The Houthis—and Iran—will continue their belligerent actions as long as the United States and Western allies do not stop them. It’s time for America and friends to continue what they started last week—painful, punishing response to all terror attacks against U.S. interests by the Islamic Republic and its proxies anywhere in the Middle East.
The only way to stop the Houthis from wreaking havoc on the global economy is to completely disable their military assets. What’s more, the United States, Israel and our Western allies must make clear to Iran by forceful actions that we will not tolerate its continued imperialist expansion and threats to the global economy.
Originally published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East.