Analysis: Can the US and Israel stop the Houthis from seizing more ships?

Analysis: Can the US and Israel stop the Houthis from seizing more ships?

A cargo ship was kidnapped by Houthi fighters on Sunday off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea.

Small, swift boats intercepted the 189-meter (620ft) long Galaxy Leader car carrier as it was making its way from Turkey to India, and armed soldiers in uniform boarding them.

The crew was instructed to change their course to the Yemeni port of Hodeida by additional people who rappelled from a helicopter onto the deck.

The incident still has the potential to seriously escalate the most recent Israel-Palestine conflict, despite the fact that no shots were fired and the captured ship is a civilian ship traveling between neutral nations.

In the worst-case scenario, it might be the first step in involving Iran and the United States directly in the conflict.

According to Houthi spokesman Yahya Sare’e, who earlier stated that the group would “not hesitate to target any Israeli vessel in the Red Sea or any place we can reach,” the ship was seized for “being Israeli-owned.” Israel has denied having any connection to the ship, but one of Israel’s richest men may be the owner, according to ownership information in public shipping databases.

The Bab al-Mandeb passage, which runs from the Yemeni island of Mayyun across to the coasts of Djibouti and Eritrea, is a chokepoint less than 20 km (12 miles) wide. The majority of the Red Sea is wider than 200 km (124 miles). More than 17,000 ships pass through it annually. That equates to almost 50 per day.

Many of them are legally recognized, such as the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese company that flies the Bahamas flag and has crew members from at least five other nations, none of which are Israeli. The flag of the ship, which denotes its country of registration and operating company, is more significant in the complex world of shipping than a ship’s ownership.

What is referred to as a “flag of convenience” is provided by the Bahamas. Operators are drawn to register their ships in this nation because of its low taxes and lenient labor laws. The NYK Line, a Japanese company that operates 818 ships, is known as Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha.

There may be scores of the nearly 1,500 ships that pass through the straits each month that are connected to Israel and thus open to additional Houthi hijackings.

Will all “Israel-linked” ships simply be left at the mercy of the Houthis since shipping must continue no matter what?

Most likely not, but there are only three ways to stop additional hijackings: by sending armed ships to travel alongside commercial traffic, by severely reducing or eliminating the Houthi offensive’s ability to attack at sea.

Who could provide armed naval patrols in the Red Sea, according to the first option?

Strong and sophisticated navies can be found in the Red Sea-bordering nations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia is reluctant to disturb the Houthis’ uneasy truce. Egypt is attempting to maintain its neutrality and does not want to engage in hostilities with the Houthis. Israel is unable to spare any ships.

The American navy would be the only force left to combat the Houthi threat.

The US has positioned numerous assets, centered on two carrier strike groups (CSGs), in the Middle East since October 7. The USS Gerald R Ford, the newest and most advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is in command of the Mediterranean-based CSG 12. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is in front of the CSG 2, which is currently in the Gulf of Oman. A guided missile cruiser, two or three destroyers, and a flotilla of auxiliary vessels, including tankers and store ships, are all present with each aircraft carrier.

The CSG 12 is responsible for keeping an eye on the larger region of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq as well as taking action against any threats that might escalate the conflict. If the situation worsens, the CSG 2 will keep an eye on Iran and take action.

As a clear indication to Iran that the US does not yet have hostile intentions, the Eisenhower CSG is being kept outside the Strait of Hormuz. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme ruler of Iran, has stated that while his nation will continue to support Hamas and the Palestinian people, it does not want to start a war.

By remaining in the Gulf of Oman, the CSG 2 is demonstrating a less-than-warlike intention while still being able to reach targets inside Iran should the US decide to escalate its threat.

The US navy has individual ships that keep an eye on Houthi missile launches in addition to the CSGs. Several Houthi missiles and Israeli-targeting drones were shot down by the USS Carney on October 19.

American options are constrained because each of these assets has a specific task to complete. The amphibious carrier USS Bataan, which is currently located just south of Suez, is the only ship that can be used to escort commercial shipping. The US’s ability to react to any escalation around Gaza would be diminished if it moved south.

This leads to the second choice. The Houthis are renowned for being prepared to face adversaries who are even more formidable. A significant escalation could be at risk if the US directly targets them. Even asking Israel to use long-range missiles to attack Houthi ports would be risky, according to Washington.

We now have the third choice, de-escalation.

Iran appears to be the key once more. The US could use subdued diplomacy to pressure Iran into acting as its proxy and prevent further hijackings at sea if the Galaxy Leader’s capture was an independent Houthi action that wasn’t started by Tehran.

The only way out that might be the most practical is if everyone involved exercises restraint.

Source: Aljazeera


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