A search for deterrence in the Red Sea

Source: The Hindu

Subject: International Relation

Topic: Global Issues

Issue: Security issue in Red sea

Why in news: The Houthis appear to be taking advantage of the lack of a coordinated response in ensuring maritime security


More about the news:

  • Houthi rebels in Yemen have responded to Israeli attacks and the bombing of Gaza by targeting merchant shipping using the Red Sea route.
  • The attacks involve the use of drones and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMS).
  • There have been attempts to board or actual boarding of ships, including the hijacking of the Galaxy Leader using a helicopter.
  • The diverse methods and weaponry used by the Houthis suggest the presence of various assets at their disposal, reflecting the type of training and capabilities they have acquired.
  • The United States had previously removed the Houthis from its terror listing, despite warnings from Saudi Arabia.
  • However, in a new development, the U.S. will consider the Houthis a specially designated global terrorist group from mid-February.
  • The new designation could have significant consequences, including blocking the Houthis’ access to the global financial system and implementing other measures aimed at curbing their activities.

The key issues that are arising:

  • The impact on global trade though sea routes and regional stability.
  • The issue of interoperability of different forces and delayed response highlight that the present concern may turn into a threat such as piracy.
  • The Houthis could use hijacked ship as mother ships to launch and the presence of hostages onboard would limit any hard power response to neutralize the threat.
  • State support to Houthis makes things more complicated, which in this case points to Iran, and perhaps China.
  • The supply of ASBMS, directly or indirectly, points to China, which also raises the issue of missile technology proliferation.

Response to such attacks:

  • Operation Prosperity Guardian, launched by the U.S. under the Combined Maritime Force’s (CMF) Combined Task Force 153, has received a tepid response from allies and strategic partners.
  • Out of the initially mentioned nine nations in the operation, three NATO allies of the U.S. – France, Italy, and Spain – have declined to participate and are operating independently.
  • Only Bahrain, among West Asian nations, is part of the operation.
  • Saudi Arabia has not joined the operation, potentially to avoid negative impacts on ongoing negotiations to end the war in Yemen and recent efforts to improve relations with Iran.
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India, despite being associated with CMF, are also operating independently.
  • Reasons include concerns about supporting Israel and, in India’s case, maintaining relations with Iran despite the halt in oil imports due to U.S. insistence.
  • Even close U.S. allies like Japan and Australia have not yet joined the operation, indicating broader divisions within like-minded nations that support freedom of navigation and maritime security.


  • The Houthis are capitalizing on the divisions among international allies and questioning the status of the U.S. as a global dominant nation.
  • Similar to dealing with piracy, addressing the Houthi threat requires ground-based solutions.
  • The attacks carried out by the U.S. and the U.K. demonstrate the importance of on-the-ground operations to counter the Houthi insurgency.
  • While targeting launchers is a tactical approach, there is a need to address the root cause by stopping the supply of weaponry to the Houthis.
  • Yemen’s situation is distinct from conflicts in Libya, Iraq, or Afghanistan, with broader global implications.
  • The complexity of the Yemen conflict demands careful consideration of actions due to the significant stakes involved.
  • The current situation does not appear to be under control, and there is a risk of further deterioration.
  • Urgent actions are required to define an achievable and accepted end state.
  • There is a need to assess further actions to prevent a state-on-state confrontation and to avoid legitimizing the Houthis as a state actor.
  • It is crucial to prevent Yemen from turning into a battleground similar to Lebanon.
  • The potential for regional destabilization and spillover effects must be carefully managed.
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