Houthi threat to Israel, threatens maritime security in volatile Middle-East | World News

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New Delhi: With Iran-backed Shia Houthi insurgency targeting Israel-bound maritime traffic in the Red Sea, the possibility of horizontal escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza to the sea-lanes off the Gulf of Aden appears real unless the nations part of Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) force the Iranian proxy war group to back off from the sea theatre.

USS Eisenhower carrier strike group in Red Sea.
USS Eisenhower carrier strike group in Red Sea.

While French Navy’s multi-mission frigate, Languedoc, downed two Houthi drones on December 9 in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, the Israelis are threatening to take on the Iran proxies unilaterally unless the international community forces Houthi handlers in Tehran stop targeting maritime traffic bound for Israel with ballistic missiles, hijackings and armed drones.

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The situation off the coast of Aden and Red Sea is quite precarious at the moment and any successful attack by Houthis on a vessel has the potential of sparking off a conflagration and increasing the cost of global sea trade. Given the scale of the crisis and the need for keeping the sea lanes clear of any extraneous threat, the Indian Navy has also positioned its latest guided missile destroyer, INS Mormugao, off the coast of Aden to deter any threat to maritime traffic bound for South Asia. India is part of the 49-nation Combined Maritime Forces.

The fact is that the Houthis, part of the Iranian-backed militias that are currently wreaking havoc in the Middle East, have recently escalated their maritime attacks in the Red Sea, significantly impacting international commerce and maritime security. On December 3, 2023, they launched a series of attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, striking three vessels with ballistic missiles. These attacks were executed from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.

The U.S. military intervened during these attacks, with the USS Carney, an American Navy destroyer, engaging in defensive actions. The USS Carney shot down three Iranian-supplied Houthi drones that were part of the assault, two of which were targeting the Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier Unity Explorer. The Unity Explorer was hit near the ship by a missile, and later by another missile, causing minor damage. Two other commercial ships, the Panamanian-flagged bulk carriers Number 9 and Sophie II, were also hit by missiles. The Number 9 reported some damage, but there were no casualties, and the Sophie II reported no significant damage.

The Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for these attacks. Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree stated that these actions were in retaliation to Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, warning that Israeli ships, or those associated with Israelis, would be targeted in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden if they violated certain conditions.

These incidents mark a significant escalation in the series of maritime attacks in the Middle East, which are linked to the broader conflict involving Israel and Hamas. They pose a direct threat to international shipping and have raised concerns about the safety of maritime routes in the region. The U.S. Central Command has highlighted the gravity of these attacks and has indicated that it will consider “all appropriate responses” to address this threat.

As of early December 2023, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, is operating in the Red Sea. This marks the first time a U.S. carrier has been active in the Middle East since the USS Ronald Reagan left the region in 2021. The Eisenhower entered the Red Sea after transiting from the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal on November 4, 2023. This deployment is significant as it represents the first time in several years that two U.S. aircraft carriers operated together in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea before Eisenhower moved to the Red Sea.

The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, which includes the USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) and USS Mason (DDG-87), deployed from Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on October 14, 2023. This deployment was initially intended to relieve the Ford Strike Group operating in the Mediterranean as part of the U.S. and NATO regional presence mission.

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