The Houthi organization — which President Joe Biden removed from the terror list soon after taking office — has harassed and targeted commercial and US military vessels in the Red Sea. Yet little in the way of serious retaliation has been meted out. Those Yemeni Houthis now threaten to attack all merchant vessels transiting the Red Sea and in the Bab al-Mandab straits off the coast of Yemen, isolating Israel.
“[I]t comes as no surprise that Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen would strike a US Navy warship in the Red Sea. The terrorist organization has declared it will attack and destroy Israel-linked vessels, both military and commercial,” Liberty Nation reported Dec. 3. Punching above their weight, the terrorist Houthis intend to block all ships en route to Israel.
Narrow Bab al-Mandab Strait
The Bab al-Mandab Strait is a narrow waterway connecting the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea. Djibouti and Eritrea are to the southwest, and Yemen on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula lies to the northeast. Because the strait is only 20 miles wide, it presents a bottleneck for ships, which can become easy targets. “Approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil consumption is transported through this narrow waterway that serves as a critical passage for energy resources vital to Europe, the United States, and the global economy,” according to BNN.
Houthis launching drones and missiles at unarmed merchant vessels could slow commercial transits and put merchant vessel crews in harm’s way. “While analysts say the Houthis have significantly increased [their] military power in recent years, a majority of the missile and drone attacks that they have launched on Israeli and Saudi targets over the past eight years have been intercepted,” Vivian Nereim and Shuaib Almosawa explained in The New York Times.
So far, the barrage of Houthi missiles and drones has done minor damage, but the sheer numbers and range of the ballistic and cruise missiles and attack drones present a danger to shipping and the Israeli Red Sea port of Eilat. US Navy destroyers in the area and Israeli air defenses have been effective in taking out the incoming air attacks. Rebecca Grant, reporting for Fox News, wrote:
“You know the US Navy destroyer USS Carney was in the news again [Nov. 26], shooting down drones launched from Yemen’s Houthi rebels against merchant shipping in the Red Sea. This crew has been taking out drones and missiles supplied by Iran for weeks now, and their tally is over two dozen destroyed so far.
“You may not have heard about another very significant engagement. On Oct. 31, an F-35I stealth fighter made in the USA and flown by Israel shot down one of Iran’s cruise missiles fired by Houthis from Yemen. This was the first-ever air-to-air kill of a cruise missile by an F-35.”
Additionally, the Israeli destruction of the cruise missile demonstrated the effectiveness of the fighter jet to look down, acquire, track, and destroy an object easily lost in fast-moving ground clutter. For most fighter aircraft, that capability is unique and valuable. US Navy and Marine Corps F-35 Lightning IIs are equally capable. However, the US naval presence in the Gulf Region has been reactive and defensive. To deal with Iran’s proxies and especially the Houthi terrorists, a more aggressive approach should be considered.
Approach to Houthis Inadequate
The US military has historically adopted a proportional response to adversaries’ attacks. That tactic quickly becomes an endless tit-for-tat process, viewed as just wrist slapping of militias bent on killing US forces. The Biden administration has asserted it does not want to escalate the conflict beyond the confines of the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza. There are reports that Iran proxies have attacked US military bases, outposts, and naval ships 92 times since Oct. 17. It seems the conflict has escalated.
“Certainly, we’re taking defensive action to protect our ships and Israel is taking action to protect itself. But clearly that has been inadequate. We all can see it …What has to be done is that we have to go on offense. We have to escalate. Take the risk to escalate to gain some dominance,” retired US Army Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News. He described the endgame for Iran and its puppet militias, including Iraqi, Syrian, and Houthis: “to drive the United States military presence out of the region.”
“Israel and the US have shot down most of these airborne threats, but the US has told Israel to let the American military respond to the Houthis, instead of risking an Israeli response that could expand the conflict, US and other government officials said,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal. The Biden administration should rid itself of the feckless delusion that a serious kinetic response will “expand” the conflict. The best way to confine the fighting is to eliminate the threats.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.