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Intel Brief: Houthi Threat in the Red Sea


Who’s involved:

  • Houthi rebels in Yemen, Israel, United States, shipping companies, international community.






What happened?

  • On 31/10/2023 the Shia rebel group called the Houthi declared war on Israel from Yemen in support of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas.


  • On 08/11/2023 the Houthi fired their first missiles towards Israel but they were intercepted by the US Navy.


  • From 09/11/2023 to 20/11/2023 the Houthi have launched several missiles and drones at Israel. All have been intercepted or have landed in the Sinai desert.


  • The Houthi declared on 19/11/2023 that they would seize any Israeli vessel passing by Yemen on the Red Sea.


  • On the same day the Houthi rebels used a helicopter to land on the shipping vessel the “Galaxy Leader” and took control of the ship taking 25 crew members hostage. The Houthi leadership claimed that the vessel is Israeli owned. The Israeli government quickly came with the reply that the ship is not under Israeli flag but is British owned and operated by Japan. Japanese authorities acknowledged that the ship is operated under the Japanese company NYK and that the crew is from several different nationalities of which none are Israeli. It is however believed that an Israeli billionaire might be part owner of the vessel, but this has not been confirmed.


  • The Houthi rebel group receives logistical and weapon’s support from Iran. Israel has blamed Iran for staging the seizure of the vessel, but Iran has denied any involvement.


  • The Red Sea shipping lane that continues on into the Gulf of Aden is an important shipping lane, with over 21.000 vessels per year going through it from China and the Gulf to Europe and vice versa. Consumer goods and oil are shipped through the Red Sea on large cargo vessels.


Analysis:

  • It is likely that the Houthi will try and seize multiple vessels that are supposedly under Israeli control. This will have a huge impact on the world economy as the shipping lane through the Red Sea is vital for the flow of goods. If shipping companies no longer dare to risk their vessels, crew and shipment to go through the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden it will severely damage the world economy.


  • When previously the cargo vessel “Ever Given” was stranded in the Suez Canal on 21/03/2021, for six days only, it already had an enormous amount of impact on the economy that extended into billions of dollars of additional costs and losses. Goods were perishing on board, shipments came in too late at their port of call, deliveries were delayed and some ships traveled all the way around the southernmost point of Africa taking two extra weeks to travel.


  • From the early 2000’s to 2017 Somali pirates would frequently seize ships around the Horn of Africa between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This severely impacted the world economy and forced shipping companies and national governments to take measures against piracy in the region. Ships would take alternate routes, hire mercenaries to protect their vessels, insurance companies upped their policy payments and several European and United States Navy vessels patrolled the area. A recurrence of such a situation is likely to have more of an impact now that the Houthi are involved. In contrast to the Somali pirates the Houthi rebels are well armed and equipped and receive logistical support from Iran. If there is any form of combat involved the stakes are much higher than with the Somali pirates who used simple fishing boats and had outdated weaponry.



Conclusion


This new phase in the war between the Yemeni Houthi rebels and Israel has taken the conflict into a whole new realm. By seizing cargo vessels, allegedly connected to Israel, there is a chance of direct disruption of the world economy since the shipping lanes in the Red Sea are vital for transporting consumer goods, food and oil across the world. It is unclear how far the Houthi will go to emphasize their point, but at the same time it is also unclear how far Israel and the United States will go to prevent any further seizures. Open combat with the Houthi in Yemen and on the Red Sea will undoubtedly lead to even more disruption in the shipping lanes, but the international community will be hard pressed to just stand by and watch as the Houthi continue their campaign.


 

20231120 Houthi Threat Red Sea Intel Brief
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