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Houthi Challenges And Global Concerns In The Red Sea – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Houthi Challenges and Global Concerns in the Red Sea

Anil Tringunayat

While efforts are being made to ensure freedom of navigation, the hotspots in the region, including in Gaza and Yemen and the civilian and humanitarian strife which can spiral out of control, need to be addressed on global priority. The Red Sea, with its strategic maritime routes, is an important artery for trade and sea borne traffic as well as for the choke points in the Bab-El Mandab which needs to be kept open.

Recent Incidents in the Red Sea

Of late several incidents of attacks on various ships by the Houthis have threatened the smooth and secured maritime passage. Houthis in Yemen have been at war with the Saudis since 2015 and have emerged as a force that has had the capacity to paralyse and hit oil production facilities and key infrastructure even bypassing the US patriot cover in the past which entailed a rethink among the Gulf countries with regard to even the US security umbrella.

Iran’s Role

Iran plays a critical support role for the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah in the region. Hence, the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran brokered by Beijing was supposed to minimise, if not end the hostilities by the Houthis. But then the Israel-Hamas war happened and Houthis, in full support of Hamas, began to target Israeli ships and their supporters like the US and other western countries.

This has become more frequent and very likely could open yet another front for the Gaza war as the Houthis have threatened to target all foreign ships transiting through Bab-el-Mandeb and in the Red Sea bound for Israel, regardless of nationality, “if Gaza does not receive the food and medicines it needs”. International community’s concern is natural and hence one witnesses the growing presence of various naval assets in the Red Sea zone and the environs to ensure smooth passage led by the US.

The US Defence Secretary, who was recently in Tel Aviv to extend military and moral support to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced a ten-nation maritime task force (Operation Prosperity Guardian) to prevent reckless Houthi attacks from Yemen which is threatening the free flow of commerce and violating international law in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. This initiative could possibly be within the ambit of 39 member Combined Maritime Force (CMF) with which India also has a formal association. He implored a collective action since it has become an international challenge.

As if Houthis care two hoots for the international law. On the other hand, an embattled Netanyahu seems to drag the western backers pointing against Iran- whose support may be critical to Houthis but whose influence on them may be somewhat limited. It is a real threat but if handled poorly it might be the trigger for expanding the conflict from Gaza to beyond as the last UAE sponsored UNSC resolution to ensure pause or ceasefire in Gaza is still waiting for the US nod.

Anil Tringunayat is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta.

The article was first published in Firstpost as Red Sea chokepoints in peril: Houthi strikes raise stakes for global shipping on December 22, 2023.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more at IMPRI: 

COP28 and the Fossil Fuel Reality

The Impact of COP-28 In Cities

Acknowledgement: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a research intern at IMPRI.

  • IMPRI Desk
  • IMPRI

    IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

  • Anil Trigunayat

    Former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Distinguished Fellow and Head of the West Asia Experts Group at the Vivekananda International Foundation.

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IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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