Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping spark global alarm and condemnation

The ongoing attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels have drawn strong criticism and warnings from the international community, as they pose a serious threat to global trade and regional stability.

The Houthi rebels, who control the western part of Yemen and are backed by Iran, have intensified their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea since November 2023, in response to Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The rebels have used various methods, including missiles, drones, fast boats and helicopters, to target cargo ships and tankers, claiming that they are linked to Israel or its allies.

The attacks have disrupted the flow of goods and energy through the Red Sea, one of the world’s most important maritime routes, connecting Europe, Asia and Africa. About 12% of global trade passes through the Red Sea, including 30% of global container traffic. The Red Sea also hosts the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a narrow passage between Yemen and Djibouti, which is a vital chokepoint for oil and gas shipments.

The Houthi attacks have forced some of the world’s largest shipping companies, such as Maersk, MSC and BP, to halt or reroute their vessels, causing delays and increasing costs. Some ships have also suffered damage or been hijacked by the rebels, although no casualties have been reported so far.

The international community has condemned the Houthi attacks and called for an immediate end to the violence. On Wednesday, January 3, 2024, the United States and 11 other countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement, expressing their “deep concern” over the attacks and warning the rebels that they will “bear the consequences” of their actions.

The statement also urged the Houthis to “cease all attacks and threats to maritime security” and to “engage constructively” in the UN-led peace process to end the conflict in Yemen. The statement also reaffirmed the countries’ commitment to “maintaining freedom of navigation and the safety of commercial shipping” in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The US also announced that it will lead a multinational maritime coalition, dubbed Operation Sentinel, to protect shipping from the Houthi attacks. The coalition will include naval and air assets from several countries, such as Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The coalition will monitor and escort commercial vessels, as well as deter and respond to any threats in the Red Sea.

The Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping are part of the broader proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been raging in Yemen since 2015. The Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, have been fighting against the internationally recognized government of Yemen, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition and supported by the US. The war has killed more than 400,000 people and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with millions facing famine and disease.

The UN has been trying to broker a political solution to the conflict, but the efforts have been hampered by the lack of trust and cooperation between the warring parties. The latest round of talks, held in Sweden in December 2022, resulted in a fragile ceasefire and a prisoner swap, but failed to address the core issues of the war. The ceasefire has been repeatedly violated by both sides, and the peace process has stalled since then.

The Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping have added a new dimension of complexity and danger to the already volatile situation in Yemen and the region. The attacks have not only jeopardized the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who depend on the Red Sea trade, but also increased the risk of a wider escalation and confrontation between Iran and its rivals. The international community has a responsibility to act swiftly and decisively to stop the attacks and to revive the peace process, before it is too late.

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