Western world helpless against Houthi attacks?

2024/02/29 at 8:29 AM

The Greek government approved on the 26th of this month the country’s participation in the European Union naval mission in the Red Sea under the code name Aspides. “A campaign of joint military operations against the Houthis in Yemen and the Red Sea could halve their ability to launch further missile attacks on commercial shipping,” says a security specialist at Risk Intelligence.

USS CARNEY. Source Wikipedia Commons

Despite American and British forces striking 18 Houthi land targets on the night from Saturday to Sunday, they responded with a missile attack the next day, which, however, “was not effective.” The Houthi’s ability to launch missile and drone attacks has so far proven resistant to interception, despite dozens of allied attacks on infrastructure and ground equipment. This proves the determination of the rebels but also the strong support they enjoy from external countries, especially Iran.

In early February, US President Joe Biden admitted that airstrikes against Houthi targets were proving ineffective. The blocking of free navigation in the Red Sea on the way to the Suez Canal may therefore be prolonged and have negative consequences, as indicated by, among others, research by the British Chamber of Commerce and EuroCommerce, which represents the European retail and wholesale sector. A breakthrough may be a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, which will overturn the argument of the Houthis, who attack merchant ships as an expression of solidarity with the fighting Hamas and the Palestinians. As reported by the New York Times, ongoing negotiations indicate that an agreement may be negotiated within a week.

More countries in Operation Aspides

The Greek government approved on the 26th of this month the country’s participation in the European Union naval mission in the Red Sea under the codename Aspides (shield in Greek). It aims to protect merchant ships from Houthi attacks but without participating in attacks on their targets on land, which are carried out by US armed forces with the support of British troops.

Aspides is the European equivalent of the American-led Operation Prosperity Guardian but with a separate chain of command – centred in Larissa, Greece, under the command of Italian Rear Admiral Stefano Costadino.

The Greeks will send the Hydra frigate “in the coming days”, reports Reuters, although according to other sources, it left the naval base in Salamis near Piraeus on Monday. However, on the 24th of this month, the German frigate Hesse reached the Red Sea. The area of this sea is already patrolled by the French frigates Alsace and Languedoc as well as the Italian destroyer Caio Duilio and the frigate Federico Martinengo.

(Partially) interrupted telecommunications connection

On Monday, the Israeli news website Globes reported that the Houthis had destroyed at least one fibre-optic line and possibly (unconfirmed) three others “in recent days” near the coast of Yemen. There are 16 of them in total, they serve around 17 per cent of telecommunications traffic between Europe and India and East Asia. These networks are owned by four major operators, including Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE-1), TGN Atlantic, Europe India Gateway and Seacom.

Seacom confirmed to Bloomberg that its single line between Egypt and Kenya was severed on 24 February, although “it is still too early to know whether it was a deliberate attack”. Seacom also warned that network repairs may be delayed due to the “unstable situation in the area”. The challenge will be to find a ship-owner to lay the cable that would be willing to operate within the range of Houthi ballistic missiles, as well as to find an insurer that will cover war risks while the cable ship is stationed off the coast of Yemen.

Entrepreneurs’ opinion research

The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), which brings together private companies from various industries, warns about the widespread consequences of disruptions in transport from Asia to Europe. This applies especially to retail. EuroCommerce, which represents the European retail and wholesale sector, made a similar statement last month. The group reported “significant consequences”, referring to the redirection of freight transport worth over 80 billion US dollars around the Cape of Good Hope. Both of these assessments are different from those of several other organisations that expect that the factors destabilising logistics activities will soon normalise.

Meanwhile, of the more than 1,000 companies surveyed by BCC, almost two-fifths (37 per cent) said they had been affected by maritime transport disruptions. This affects British exporters (55 per cent of responses) and manufacturers (53 per cent) more strongly, as well as B2C companies providing services to individual customers, such as retailers.

The issues listed by companies included: increased operating costs (some reported a three-fold increase in container rental prices and a four-fold increase in freight rates) and logistics delays, extending delivery times by up to 3-4 weeks. This causes cash flow difficulties and component shortages on production lines. “There has been spare capacity in the ocean freight industry to respond to the difficulties, which has bought us some time,” William Bain, director for trade policy at BCC, commented. “However, our research suggests that the longer the current situation persists, the more likely it is that cost pressures will begin to increase”.

How far to the truce?

“President Biden said Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip within a week, although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke earlier in the day of further military action,” the New York Times reports.

Netanyahu briefed the war cabinet on a plan to evacuate civilians from “combat areas” in the Gaza Strip and on Israel’s “long-awaited” invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that shelters more than half of Gaza’s population. “Many countries and international aid organisations have warned that an invasion of Rafah could lead to mass casualties in the enclave,” the NYT writes. Also, citing the statement of “one of the officials”, the NYT reports that, according to Israeli intelligence officers, “the leader of Hamas in Gaza has become more willing in recent weeks to reach an agreement that would only allow for a temporary truce but with the hope that it will become permanent”.

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