Houthi Attacks in Red Sea Disrupt Global Trade, Threaten Regional Stability

Yemeni Houthi rebels launched a campaign of missile and drone attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, disrupting global trade and prompting a multinational response. The US and UK launched operations to deter Houthi attacks, but the rebels have persisted, forcing major shipping firms to suspend transits.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Houthi Attacks in Red Sea Disrupt Global Trade, Threaten Regional Stability

Houthi Attacks in Red Sea Disrupt Global Trade, Threaten Regional Stability

The Red Sea has become a battleground as Yemeni Houthi rebels launch a relentless campaign of missile and drone attacks on commercial vessels transiting this vital maritime chokepoint. The attacks, which began in late 2023 following a Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, have escalated into a sustained barrage, endangering one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and a key artery for global trade.

Why this matters: The disruption of global trade through the Red Sea has far-reaching consequences for the world economy, threatening to exacerbate existing supply chain issues and drive up costs for consumers. Moreover, the escalation of violence in the region risks drawing in more countries and destabilizing an already volatile Middle East.

The crisis reached a tipping point on November 19, 2023, when Houthi forces seized the Israel-affiliated cargo ship Galaxy Leader, marking a dramatic escalation in the conflict. In response, the United States established Operation Prosperity Guardian in mid-December 2023, a multinational maritime security coalition comprising over 20 nations, to deter and degrade the Houthi's ability to conduct attacks on commercial shipping.

Despite these efforts, the attacks have persisted, forcing major shipping firms like BP, Shell, and Trafigura to suspend transits through the Red Sea in early 2024 due to heightened risks and costs. The United States and the United Kingdom launched Operation Poseidon Archer in mid-January 2024, targeting Houthi missile and drone launch sites, radars, and associated infrastructure within Yemen.

The Houthi movement, officially known as Ansar Allah, aims to assert control over critical maritime chokepoints and gain leverage in the ongoing conflict. The attacks serve as a retaliatory measure against the Saudi-led coalition's military intervention in Yemen and align the Houthis with the Palestinian cause, garnering support from sympathetic groups across the Arab and Muslim world.

The Houthis have employed a range of tactics and weaponry, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), armed drones, and uncrewed waterborne vessels. The Asef ASBM has a range of 400 km and a 500 kg warhead, while the Al Mandeb 2 ASCM has a range of 120 km and a 165 kg warhead. Despite possessing advanced capabilities, the Houthis' targeting infrastructure and accuracy have been relatively limited.

The impact on global trade and regional security has been significant. The Red Sea is a critical waterway for international maritime trade, accounting for approximately 15% of global shipping traffic. Disruptions to this vital route have forced numerous shipping companies to reroute their vessels, resulting in delays, increased costs, and supply chain disruptions. The Suez Canal, a vital conduit between Europe and Asia, has seen a 40% drop in revenue in the first 11 days of January, with wheat shipments tumbling almost 40% in the first half of the month.

As the crisis continues, the international community faces the challenge of protecting global trade while preventing further escalation in the region. US President Joe Biden acknowledged the ongoing threat, stating,"Are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they gonna continue? Yes. "The Red Sea crisisserves as a stark reminder of the fragility of global supply chains and the far-reaching consequences of regional conflicts in an interconnected world.