With the increase in Houthi threats in the Red Sea, American warships are moving to confront successive attacks that have disrupted vital shipping lines.
The Houthi strikes prompted the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, to announce the formation of a coalition that includes several countries to ensure security in the Red Sea.
With the presence of the coalition, several countries will place their ships near the Red Sea to respond to attacks and protect commercial ships and tankers, as a form of deterrence, but this has not stopped the Houthis from continuing to target ships operating near Yemen.
The Iranian-backed Houthi group has been attacking commercial ships since October in a campaign it says is in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, against which Israel continues to launch attacks.
Why do the Houthis target ships in the Red Sea?
The Houthi attacks come to support Hamas in its war against Israel in the Gaza Strip. The group said that it will target all ships heading to Israel, regardless of their nationality, and they warned all international shipping companies against dealing with Israeli ports.
The attacks disrupted the flow of global trade, and shipping companies and oil companies said they would avoid the Suez Canal, which increases shipping costs and lengthens journeys, because ships, in return, choose to circle the African continent.
So far, the Houthi group in Yemen, supported by Iran, has launched at least 100 missile attacks and dozens of drones towards ships in the Red Sea, and has repeated its threats to target any Israeli ship or heading to Israel, according to a report published by the magazine “Foreign Policy“.
How does Washington confront Houthi attacks?
The US Central Command announced that the 17 drones and missiles launched by the Houthis on Tuesday were shot down by weapons carried by the destroyer USS Laboon, and fighter jets from F-A-18 flying from the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower.
The US Navy did not reveal details of the weapons used to repel the Houthi attacks, but analysts said that the US destroyer has a set of weapons systems at its disposal, according to a report published by the “Network.”CNN“.
The experts said that these weapons include “surface-to-air missiles, shells from the main gun on board the destroyer, and weapons systems soon,” noting that the American ships in the Red Sea possess “electronic warfare capabilities that can cut the links between drones and their control units on the the beach”.
They added, “Whatever systems US destroyer commanders use, they face decisions about cost, inventory, and effectiveness.”
John Bradford, an international affairs scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that “slower drones can be hit with cheaper missiles,” but “faster missiles must be intercepted with more sophisticated interceptors.”
“Guardian of prosperity”
Washington has at least three destroyers stationed in the Red Sea, according to a Foreign Policy analysis, while several countries participate with warships in the “Prosperity Guardian” operation led by the United States.
The United States recently launched Operation Prosperity Sentinel, saying that more than a dozen countries have agreed to participate in an effort that will include joint patrols in the Red Sea waters near Yemen.
The Pentagon recently said that more than 20 countries in total have agreed to participate in the new US-led coalition.
However, the new total indicates that at least eight of the countries that have decided to join the effort are refusing to disclose their participation publicly, a sign of the political sensitivities of the process as regional tensions rise.
Major General Patrick Ryder said: “More than 20 countries have now agreed to participate,” explaining that Greece and Australia have announced their joining.
The US army shoots down Houthi drones and missiles over the Red Sea
The US Department of Defense announced, on Tuesday, that the US military shot down attack drones and missiles launched by the Houthis from Yemen towards cargo ships in the Red Sea.
He added, “We will allow other countries to participate. It is up to them to talk about joining.” Ryder said that each country will contribute what it can, describing the process as a “coalition of the willing.”
“In some cases, this will include ships. In other cases, it may include individuals or other types of support,” he added in a press conference.
“Guardian of Prosperity”… the missiles used
The CNN report explains the weapons and ammunition used by American destroyers in the Red Sea, the most prominent of which are:
– The “Standard 6 Missile” system: It is an advanced weapon that can shoot down ballistic missiles in the atmosphere, and other missiles launched on low trajectories, which target ships within a range of 370 km, and its cost is $4 million, according to what the network reported from “CSIS.” .
– “Standard 2” missile system: used by American destroyers, for targets with a range between 185 and 370 km, and its cost is $2.5 million.
– The “ESSM” missile system: It is intended to strike anti-ship cruise missiles and low-speed threats such as drones or helicopters at a range of up to 50 km, and its cost is one million dollars.
“Guardian of prosperity” and the resumption of freight traffic
Ships of the French company CMA CGM have resumed crossing the Red Sea, while the Danish Maersk intends to do the same, according to what the two shipping companies announced on Wednesday.
The French company said that “some ships have crossed the Red Sea,” and that it intends “to gradually increase the transit of our ships through the Suez Canal,” in a message to its customers, a copy of which was received by Agence France-Presse.
The company did not reveal further details “for security reasons.”
For its part, Maersk confirmed in a statement that it intends to “resume navigation in the Red Sea in the east as well as the west direction,” noting that ships will resume using this sea lane “as soon as possible.”
Maersk considered that the formation of this alliance, which was called the “Guardian of Prosperity,” is “good news for the entire sector” of maritime transport, allowing the resumption of navigation traffic, but it stressed that “the overall danger in this region has not yet been eliminated,” according to Agence France-Presse. Press.
In turn, the French company confirmed that it is “permanently monitoring the situation and we remain ready to re-evaluate our plans if necessary.”
Major international transport companies, including Maersk and CMA CGM, announced, as of mid-December, the suspension of traffic through the Red Sea after operations launched by the Houthis in Yemen targeting ships they said were linked to Israel or sailing to and from its ports.
Shipping companies resume traffic through the Red Sea
The French “CMAC CGM” announced that some of its ships have returned to crossing the Red Sea, while the Danish “Maersk” intends to do the same, according to what the two shipping companies announced on Wednesday, after suspending this due to the Houthi attacks in Yemen against the backdrop of the war in Gaza.
Many ships diverted to the Cape of Good Hope, in the far south of Africa, which is a long and expensive route.
With 12 percent of global trade passing through it, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, the Red Sea is considered a “highway” linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal, and thus Europe to Asia.
About 20,000 ships pass through the Suez Canal annually, and it is considered vital to global trade.
Existing maritime alliances in the region
Naval forces from several countries are already participating in international operations to protect shipping lanes in the region, which includes protecting ships from pirates who have disrupted shipping off the coast of Somalia for several years, according to a Reuters report.
These tasks include the following:
– Operation Atlanta, launched by the European Union Naval Force in Somalia and operating off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Ocean
Indian to support United Nations resolutions to protect the seas from piracy. Its headquarters are in Spain.
– Operation Agenor, which is European-led, aims to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, which is a major shipping lane for oil exports from the Gulf states.
The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a multinational maritime partnership led by the United States from Bahrain, which hosts the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet. The joint naval forces include 39 members, including NATO member states, European countries, others from the region, and others. One of its missions is Combined Task Force 153 (CTF 153), which operates in the Red Sea.
What is Bab al-Mandab and what is its importance?
The Bab al-Mandab Strait is the entrance to the Red Sea from the south and is located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea on the African coast.
The Strait is one of the most important water routes in the world for shipments of global goods transported by sea, especially crude oil and fuel from the Gulf heading to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal or the SUMED pipeline on the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea, in addition to goods heading to Asia, including Russian oil. .
The Strait witnessed the naval blockade imposed by Egypt on Israel in the 1973 October War.
The width of Bab al-Mandab is 29 km at its narrowest point, which makes the movement of tankers difficult and is limited to two channels for shipments heading to and leaving the Red Sea, separated by Perim Island.
About 7.80 million bpd of crude oil and fuel shipments passed through the strait in the first 11 months of 2023, up from 6.60 million bpd throughout 2022, according to oil analytics firm Vortexa. Vortexa monitored the crossing of 27 tankers loaded with crude or fuel per day on average in 2023, up from 20 last year.
The Energy Information Administration says that 12 percent of all seaborne oil in the first half of 2023, as well as eight percent of liquefied natural gas trade, passed through Bab al-Mandab, the SUMED pipeline, and the Suez Canal.