World's largest container companies suspend operations in Red Sea following Houthi attacks (Al Jazeera)

About a week ago, a senior leader of the Houthi Ansar Allah group, Yousef al-Madani, told a local radio station that the force that took control of the Israeli ship "Galaxy Leader" and took it to the port of Saleef, western Yemen, was trained for two years in order to carry out similar operations.

Al-Madani leads the fifth military region that controls Yemen's western coast, including the city of Hodeidah, which the Houthis are desperate to preserve, despite the advance of forces loyal to the Yemeni government backed by the coalition at the end of 2018, before the international community pressed for the completion of negotiations that ended with the Stockholm Agreement between the parties to the conflict in Yemen.

After 5 years of the agreement, the city of Hodeidah and the western coast turned into a source of danger to maritime navigation and ships linked to Israel following the Houthi attacks, which came in response to the Israeli aggression on Gaza, as announced by the Houthi group, this new fact prompted 4 of the world's top 5 container companies, representing 53% of the global container trade, to suspend their operations in the Red Sea.

In response, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Tuesday the formation of a multinational force to protect trade in the Red Sea.

  • How did the Houthis become a threatening force in the Red Sea?

Since the first operation on November 19 against Israeli-linked vessels, Houthi attacks have become a daily occurrence, and within two months the US Navy shot down 38 Houthi missiles and drones in the Red Sea.

A senior military commander in the Yemeni government, who recommended not to be named, told Al Jazeera Net that "the Houthis took advantage of the Stockholm Agreement, which ruled to stop the Saudi-led coalition air strikes on the city of Hodeidah, in building huge workshops for the remanufacture and installation of drones and long-range missiles."

The Stockholm Agreement is a UN-sponsored agreement reached by the Houthis and the legitimate government in the Swedish capital on December 13, 2018, and provides for the redeployment of forces in the coastal province of Hodeidah, the exchange of lists of prisoners and detainees (more than 15,<>), and the lifting of the siege on the city of Taiz (southwest).

The military source explained that weapons and spare parts were arriving to the Houthis from Iran to the western coast in small boats that used smuggling routes, and appeared in Houthi military parades.

Military expert Mohammed al-Kamim told Al Jazeera Net that "government forces warned the international community that the Stockholm Agreement allows the flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthis."

"Today, the Houthis are clearly and explicitly reflecting Iranian influence in the region, especially after the Iranian defense minister said that the Red Sea is in their hands," al-Kamim said.

  • What can those forces do? Will it re-explode the situation in Yemen?

So far, the naval force of the new international coalition has not announced any action against the Houthis, while indications seem that its mission is to secure the routes of ships crossing the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the southern Red Sea, and this will only launch an offensive operation for fear of expanding the ongoing Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.

The researcher specializing in military and strategic affairs Ali gold for Al Jazeera Net, that "that force has previous experience in the face of piracy (in the coast of Somalia), that is, it will accompany commercial ships, and will respond to the sources of threat."

"If the threat is from the boats, they will sink or chase them, and if it is from land, it will respond to the sources of fire, and here the operation will expand further, and the conflict may intensify and widen," al-Dhahab said.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam told Al Jazeera that "whoever seeks to expand the conflict must bear the consequences of his actions," while a statement by the Supreme Political Council – the Houthis' highest authority – said that "naval power threatens navigation in the Red Sea."

Yemen's naval operations are aimed at supporting the Palestinian people in the face of aggression and siege on Gaza, and they are not a show of force or a challenge to anyone, and whoever seeks to expand the conflict must bear the consequences of his actions, and the coalition formed by the United States is to protect Israel and militarize the sea without any justification, and will not stop Yemen from continuing its legitimate operations...

— Mohamed Abdel Salam (@abdusalamsalah) December 19, 2023

A member of the Supreme Political Council Hizam al-Assad, says to Al Jazeera Net that "the United States tried by repelling missiles and drones and protecting Israeli ships," in reference to the new force will not take any different step.

Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden that his country would act militarily against the Houthis if the United States did not do so, was not among the countries that formed naval power.

The Assad belt downplayed the danger of the formation of this international force, saying that it is "a step that was not imposed by reality or necessity, and does not have the foundations or references, and all its purpose is to protect Israeli ships, and the understanding of the countries bordering the Red Sea prevented actual or declared participation in it."

The Houthi leader explained that the change of shipping companies occurred as a result of US pressure exerted on them in order to inflame world opinion, and to show the scene as a targeting of the movement and shipping lines in general, as well as to blackmail Egypt and the rest of the countries bordering the Red Sea.

Will the Houthis stop targeting ships?

The Houthi drones seemed to be a concern that may worry Operation Prosperity Guardian led by the new international force, and the website of the American magazine "Politico" quoted Pentagon officials that the cost of shooting down Houthi drones and missiles is a growing concern, as a missile worth two million dollars is used to intercept a Houthi march worth two thousand dollars.

The Assad belt affirms that the Houthi naval forces will continue to track and pursue Israeli ships, or heading to Israeli ports, and detain them "until the US-backed Israeli aggression stops killing our people in Gaza, lifts the siege and allows the entry of food, medical and food supplies."

"No one will prevent us from supporting our oppressed brothers in Gaza, even if all the powers of the world unite against us," he added.

What are the Houthis' gains?

At the iron fence of the al-Saleh Mosque in central Sanaa, pictures of Houthi, Iranian and Hamas leaders rose and a bystander looked at the images with admiration, while the group appeared to send a message to its supporters that it was confronting America and Israel.

The Houthi group's attacks against Israeli interests have received popular support inside Yemen, and even from some of the group's opponents, and prominent Houthi leader Yousef al-Madani says, "Now we have reached the main enemy, to the nation's real enemy, the Zionist enemy. For the central cause, the cause of Palestine, the cause of the whole nation."

Ali al-Dhahab, a researcher specializing in military and strategic affairs, said, "The Houthis have proven that they are capable of doing something, and it will be credited to them that they were among the factors that stopped the fire or precipitated the truce in Gaza, and if that does not happen, the Houthis will attribute the cessation of their operations - pragmatically - to the cessation of the passage of Israeli ships in the Red Sea."

It seems that the US administration is still betting on its position that the Houthis could play a role in Yemen after reaching a peace agreement, and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has previously stated that Washington was "quietly supporting the Houthis' fight against AQAP at the time," according to the American magazine "Foreign Policy" quoted a senior officer who worked with Secretary Austin in the US military's Central Command.

What is the position of the Yemeni government?

The spokesman for the legitimate government forces in Yemen apologized for commenting on the formation of the international naval force, while the Yemeni Ministry of Defense website quoted an official source in the ministry as denying reports that the government was participating in an international coalition to protect shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Yemen's legitimate government controls the country's southern coasts, the Bab al-Mandab Strait and an area of the country's western coast, and a week ago the naval forces led by Tariq Saleh, a member of Yemen's Presidential Command Council, held a naval parade to show their readiness to protect the coasts.

Tariq Saleh (nephew of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh) traveled to Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet was based, and met with the commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defense Force, Field Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, before the United States announced the formation of the International Naval Force in the Red Sea.

Aidarous al-Zubaidi, a member of the Presidential Leadership Council and head of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, is also enthusiastic about participating in the international maritime coalition, saying during his visit to Mayun Island on the Bab al-Mandab Strait on Monday that his forces are "ready to participate in any international effort or coalition to secure international shipping lines."

John Kirby said that there are countries that do not want to announce their participation in the multinational coalition to repel Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, and want their participation to remain secret.
He noted that the number of countries had reached 44.

— Wajd Waqfi Wajd Waqfi (@WajdWaqfi) December 19, 2023

But it is clear that there is no consensus within the Presidential Leadership Council led by Rashad Al-Alimi and the Yemeni government to participate in the maritime coalition led by Washington, and military expert Mohammed Al-Kamim says that "the government will not participate in the coalition, which is a positive step, as America, Britain and the international community are the ones who stopped the battle to liberate Hodeidah, and now they are reaping what they sowed."

Source : Al Jazeera