Who are the Houthis and why are they putting world trade at risk?

Houthi rebels’ attacks on ships passing through the Red Sea continue. The actions of these Yemeni and pro-Iranian forces began after the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as a form of support for Islamic militias and solidarity with the Palestinian people. These attacks, which raised concerns about prolonging the conflict, were condemned by the European Union and the United States, which announced a coalition of 10 countries to end the attacks and restore the free movement of goods. So who are the Houthis and why are they attacking boats in the Red Sea?

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah (“Followers of Allah”), are an armed group of Shiite militias that have been fighting for years against Yemen’s central government, which represents the Sunni majority of the population. Muslim nation. Among the main reasons for the conflicts are ethno-religious reasons that have been going on for decades and are part of the delicate geopolitical balance of the region.

The Houthis have monopolized the Shiite minority’s armed resistance against the Sunni government in Sanaa, which has sought to assimilate Shiites since Yemen’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1967. The rebel group’s leadership was formed abroad, particularly in Iran, before returning in the 2000s to join clashes against government forces and seize control of the northwestern part of the country.

Torn apart by the civil war that began with the Arab Spring of 2011, Yemen is the scene of what many observers describe as the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world; According to estimates by ‘, at least 21.6 million people are completely dependent on international aid. UN. Rebels have controlled most of the country since 2014, when they overthrew the transitional government backed by Saudi Arabia. In 2015, the international coalition led by Ryad launched a campaign against Houthi positions, which ended last year and worsened the situation of the population without managing to eliminate the threat posed by the militias.

What further complicates the situation is that the Houthis are difficult to reach through diplomatic initiatives because almost no one knows them except Iran, which supports them as an offshoot of the “axis of resistance.” But even Tehran may not be able to control them, and it appears that the attacks carried out by these militias in recent weeks have not been agreed upon with the Iranian leadership.

Attacks in the Red Sea

Since the start of the Gaza war, Houthi groups have intensified attacks on ships passing through the Red Sea from their bases in Yemen to pressure Israel to stop bombing the Strip. Last November 19, a commando of militiamen waving Yemeni and Palestinian flags attacked the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, landed on deck by helicopter, and hijacked the ship towards the port of Hodeida in western Yemen. On December 12, the Houthis hit the Norwegian oil tanker Strinda with a missile to prevent it from carrying its cargo to Israel, while at least three more ships have been hit by missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles launched from Houthi territory in recent days.

More precisely, threats to navigation mainly concern the Bab el-Mandab Strait, the strategic passage connecting this sea with the Indian Ocean (via the Gulf of Aden and the Sea of ​​Oman). This is literally the third global “choke point” through which oil shipments from around the world pass (the first two are the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman and the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia). . . Over six million barrels of oil (about 12% of global oil trade) pass through every day, most of which goes to Europe (via the Suez Canal).

As can be seen with a quick look at the geographical map, this step saves a lot of time and money in supplying oil to the Old Continent compared to the alternative by sea, which requires circumnavigating Africa: the second option, according to Al Jazeera, would take about ten days more and will increase shipping costs by approximately 15%. This is why this shift is critical to the global economy, and why a non-state group like the Houthis can achieve disproportionate results with the limited military resources at its disposal.

Threats to global trade

The leadership of the Yemeni group has announced that it will continue to launch attacks on ships heading towards the Israeli coast until Tel Aviv gives the people of Gaza a respite and effectively opens a new front in the Middle East conflict. However, although its intensity is low (for now), it is a front that risks creating much more serious problems at the global level, and carries the risk of adding further increases in energy prices to the already significant increases in bills.

Moreover, beyond the losses incurred in the event of a ship being seized, even the risk of attack and disruption to maritime traffic increases insurance premiums as well as crew compensation and a host of other costs, and risks rising prices across the country. The entire worldwide oil supply chain. Several shipping companies, including some global trading giants, have already announced that they are suspending the passage of their ships through the Red Sea: a decision that could have significant repercussions in many parts of the world, from Europe to Asia. not just from oil but from many other products.

And so yesterday (Monday, December 18) the United States announced the birth of a multilateral coalition of nearly ten countries, including the United Kingdom, France, the United Arab Emirates, and Italy, to guarantee the security of maritime commerce. The US aircraft carrier Eisenhower has been in the region since the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, and over the weekend US and British navy ships shot down several drones taking off from Yemen. These attacks come in addition to attacks by Somali pirates who have long threatened maritime traffic in the region between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

In addition to attacking transit ships in recent days, the Houthis have also fired rockets into Israeli territory, particularly the Eilat region on the Red Sea. Also within range of the rebel missiles are the oil platforms of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which face the threat of reprisals if they join the US-led coalition.

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Source: Today IT