Geopolitics

The rogues establishing sway over the Red Sea
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Dec , 2023

The Houthi misadventure

The Bab el Mandeb Strait of the Red Sea off Yemen is just between 26-29 km in width. Houthis, Iran’s armed proxy, have used drones and rockets to attack cargo ships in the Red Sea region alleging that the targeted ships belonged to Israel. The Houthi control a large part of Yemen.

The Houthi have declared their support to Hamas and attacking the commercial cargos in the Red Sea is to demonstrate its firm support. They have attacked several commercial vessels in the region with drones and ballistic missiles.

Nearly 17,000 ships pass through the Red Sea each year which computes to almost 12% of annual global trade with one trillion US dollars’ worth of goods.

As a result, many big shipping companies have been compelled to reroute their commercial cargos around the Cape of Good Hope just to avoid being targeted by the Houthi

The roughish adventures of the Houthi in the Red Sea region seem to have posed a serious threat to trade and commerce between European and Middle East of Asian countries. Realizing that this was a serious security issue, the US has launched an international operation to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels across the Red Sea.

The importance of the Red Sea channel lies in the fact that any ship passing through the Suez Canal from the Indian Ocean has to come via the strait of Bab al-Mandab and the Red Sea. Nearly 17,000 ships pass through the Red Sea each year which computes to almost 12% of annual global trade with one trillion US dollars’ worth of goods.

The US has already announced a plan in cooperation with some of the European countries including Australia to devise the mechanism of safeguarding the passage of commercial vessels through the Red Sea. But they have, in reality, to face the expanding ambition of Iran in playing a decisive role in bringing pressures on the US to withdraw sanctions imposed on Iran.

Iran factor

A group of Yemen’s Shia Muslim minority, Zaidis, called the Houthi, was formed in 1990s to fight the corrupt regime of the then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The President tried to suppress the movement with the support of Saudi Arabia in 2003 but with no success whatsoever. The Houthi feel happy to be part of the Iran-led axis of resistance against Israel, the US and the wider West — along with Hamas and Hezbollah both supported by Iran.

The Houthi rebels accept the Shia armed group; in Lebanon is its model and has been receiving extensive military training and expertise since 2014 as stated by the US-based Combating Terrorism Centre.

Takia meaning denial is a widely accepted norm with the terrorists-Jihadists and their handlers. At one time, Pakistan also denied any knowledge about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

Sources including those in the US suspect Iran supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels. White House national security spokesperson, Adrienne Watson said, “We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.” He added; “this is consistent with Iran’s long term material support and encouragement of the Houthi’ destabilizing actions in the region,”

The US and Saudi Arabia think that ballistic missile which the Houthi rebels had fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in 2017, was given to them by Iran. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia also thought the cruise missiles and drones Houthi used to attack Saudi oil installations in 2019 also were supplied to the Hauthis by Iran. Tens of thousands of short-range missiles fired by the Hauthis into Saudi Arabia had also attacked targets in the UAE.

Tehran has categorically denied having any role in the Houthi attacks on commercial vessels. Tehran has also denied involvement in the Hamas’ activities. Takia meaning denial is a widely accepted norm with the terrorists-Jihadists and their handlers. At one time, Pakistan denied any knowledge about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Ultimately, he was located in a bungalow a few miles away from the Pak army GHQ in Abbotabad.

Consequences

Iran is trying to play a role bigger than its capacity in the Gulf region. It is building into a formidable resisting force to international peace and tranquillity. Iran is applying the Shia concept of “protest” — much eulogized in Shia jurisprudence — to modern political strategies and formulations. China has brokered goodwill between Saudi-Arabia and its arch-rival Iran.

Nobody, who is knowledgeable about the history of bilateral animosity between these two Islamic states, is convinced that the brokered goodwill agreement will survive. Iran’s burgeoning aggressive stance in the region has made Riyadh to repair the fence with the US.

The Israeli – Hamas war has convinced the US and NATO powers that Iran’s present stance is much more worrisome than what is happening in Ukraine.

It is becoming more and more convincing for the US and its European allies that as long as Iran moves around with its aggressive design of exporting the Islamic Revolution of Iran as conceptualized by Ayatollah Khomeini, peace and security shall remain elusive in the Middle East.

The Israeli – Hamas war has convinced the US and NATO powers that Iran’s present stance is much more worrisome than what is happening in Ukraine. The serious developments in the Middle East have forced the US and its Western allies in NATO to move away from Ukraine and focus on the Middle-East. The sanctions imposed on Iran are not proving effective. Therefore, the situation has to be analysed and explained in the light of the basics.

Earlier this week, Washington announced that the launch of a multinational force, involving more than 20 countries, to protect vessels transmitting the Red sea. Last week, the US fired a guided-missile destroyer that shot down 14 attack drones believed to have been fired from Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen.

In the most recent incidents, the Gabon-Flagged MV Sai Baba, an oil tanker, with an Indian crew of 25 sailors was hit in a drone attack. Later a Liberian-Flagged MV Chem Pluto was also attacked, this vessel had a crew of 22 of which 21 were Indians. In view of these developments India has deployed three warships in the Arabian Sea and also is maintaining surveillance with Naval P-8 I aircraft.

It is expected that Iran will read the writing on the wall, change its belligerent mood and join the mainstream that works for the safety and security of the entire region.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

KN Pandita

Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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