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Houthi militants in the Red Sea UPSC NOTE

 

  • A U.S. strike on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea while they were attacking a container ship is the latest sign that the Gaza war is widening beyond Israel-Palestine

  • Three Houthi boats were sunk and 10 militants killed in a rare close combat with the rebels who control much of Yemen. 

  • The Houthis say that to express solidarity with the Palestinians, they would continue to attack commercial vessels passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, through which the Red Sea opens into the Gulf of Aden. 

  • Since late November, at least 20 commercial tankers have come under Houthi attacks.

  • It includes a chemical vessel off the Indian coast,

  • This forced some of the world’s largest shipping companies, including Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and MSC, to suspend trading on the Red Sea routes, and use the circuitous route around Africa. 

  • Traffic through the Red Sea, a crucial link between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Seas through the Suez Canal.

  • This has dropped by some 35% in recent weeks.

  •  This leads to increasing shipping and insurance costs

  • The crisis has prompted the U.S. to announce a new naval task force to ensure security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

  • But the U.S.’s attempt to deal with the Houthi threats as a stand-alone security crisis might run into its own limitations. 

  • No Red Sea basin country has joined the U.S.-led task force, which includes even Egypt, whose economy has taken a hit due to the drop in the Suez traffic. 

  • This shows the growing anger in the Arab world towards the Biden’s administration’s unconditional support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has killed at least 22,000 people.

  • The Houthi control of Yemen’s Red Sea Coast, including the port of Hodeidah, which is some 250 km north of the Bab el-Mandeb, just 29 km wide at its narrowest point.

  • This gives them a natural advantage in carrying out sea denial attacks in and around the Strait.

  • The U.S. has shot down several Houthi missiles and drones over the Red Sea. 

  • Even if the U.S. carries out airstrikes in Yemen, it is not clear whether aerial attacks could deter the Houthis.

  • Houthis survived intense Saudi bombing for seven years. 

  • Beefing up security in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea has now become inevitable.

  • The U.S. should first work towards achieving a ceasefire in Gaza, addressing the core issue behind the escalation

  • That would help Washington build a regional consensus against the Houthis

  • If the U.S. turns a blind eye towards the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians by its ally and stays focused only on the Houthis, it risks getting dragged deeper into a widening regional conflict.


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