Yemen’s armed forces, led by Ansarallah, have declared their intent to attack any ship associated with Israel, leading to a naval blockade on Israel.
Now that Ansarallah and its military forces are the center of attention once again in Yemen, it is time to move past the crude and contemptuous labeling of the Houthis as just another rebel organization or non-state actor.
The Yemeni resistance movement has grown into a powerful military force since the Saudi-led coalition launched its war against Ansarallah in 2015. Not only has it humiliated Saudi Arabia, but it is also posing a threat to Israel’s genocide in Gaza and the US Navy’s superior resources and firepower in the world’s most vital waterway.
The economic fallout of Yemen’s naval operations
After Israel unleashed unprecedented violence on Gaza, killing over 20,000 people, mostly women, and children, Yemen’s armed forces led by Ansarallah declared on November 14 that they would attack any ship associated with Israel that was traveling through the vital Bab al-Mandab Strait in the Red Sea. This vital canal is the entry point to the Suez Canal, which is used by 8.8 million barrels of oil per day and around 10% of world trade every day.
Ansarallah declared on December 9 that it would broaden its operations to include targeting any ship, regardless of nationality, traveling to Israel through the Red Sea. Ansarallah Armed Forces spokesperson: “All ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces if Gaza does not receive the food and medicine it needs.”
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According to their public announcements, Ansarallah has so far used drones and missiles to successfully attack nine ships and has taken control of one ship that is associated with Israel in the Red Sea. The biggest international shipping firms, such as CMA CGM and MSC, as well as the oil majors BP and Evergreen, were forced by these operations to reroute their ships heading for Europe around the horn of Africa, which added 13,000 kilometers and high fuel expenses to the trip.
The Pentagon has reported that the US warship USS Thomas Hudner has intercepted a drone fired from Yemen against Israel.
Commercial shipping delays, transit periods, and insurance costs have increased dramatically, raising the possibility of global inflation. For Israel, which is already dealing with the financial fallout from the bloodiest and longest war in its history with the Palestinian resistance, this is particularly concerning.
Furthermore, Ansarallah has attacked Israel’s southern port city of Eilat with many missile and drone strikes, resulting in an 85% decrease in commercial marine traffic.
The White House’s 2022 National Security Strategy, which unequivocally states that the US will not permit any nation “to jeopardize freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” is directly undermined by the disruption in the Red Sea.
Coalition of the unwilling
Secretary of State Lloyd Austin announced on December 18, in reaction to Sanaa’s actions, the formation of a naval alliance called Operation Prosperity Guardian, involving about 20 nations to thwart Yemeni strikes and guarantee the safety of ships navigating the Red Sea.
Austin declared that the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands, the Seychelles, and Bahrain would be part of the new naval alliance.
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, the political head of Ansarallah, declared that Yemen’s armed forces would not back down in reaction to the announcement:
Yemen awaits the creation of the filthiest coalition in history to engage in the holiest battle in history. How will the countries that rushed to form an international coalition against Yemen to protect the perpetrators of Israeli genocide be perceived?
Secretary Austin and White House advisor Jake Sullivan were quickly embarrassed. Not long after the coalition was announced, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two important US allies, rejected to join. Denmark, Holland, and Norway, three European allies, sent very few naval officers as backup.
Although France consented to take part, it declined to send further ships or assign its current vessel to the US for command in the area. Italy and Spain denied any involvement, and eight countries stayed unidentified, raising questions about their very existence.
Therefore, Ansarallah has demolished yet another cornerstone of the White House National Security Strategy, which aims “to promote regional integration through integrated air and maritime defense structures as well as by building political, economic, and security connections between and among US partners.”
Revolutions in naval warfare
The Pentagon intends to use missile defense systems aboard US and allies Navy carriers stationed in the area to protect commercial ships.
However, the most impoverished nation in West Asia, war-torn Yemen, lacks the military might to repel attacks from the world’s superpower, which is currently mostly on its own.
This is because Ansarallah’s cheap and easily made drones and missiles are countered by the US using costly and challenging to create interceptor missiles.
Shortly after the USS Carney destroyer intercepted 14 one-way attack drones in a single day on December 16, Austin made his announcement.
Although Politico quickly reported that three US Defense Department officials stated that the cost of thwarting such attacks “is a growing concern,” the operation seemed to be successful.
Ansarallah’s one-way attack drones cost only $2,000 apiece, compared to the USS Carney’s SM-2 missiles, which are estimated to have cost around $2.1 million each.
In other words, the US had to spend at least $28 million in a single day to shoot down the drones, which were valued at $28,000, on December 16.
With over 100 drone and missile attacks to date, Ansarallah has targeted ten commercial ships from 35 countries; as a result, the cost of US interceptor missiles alone has surpassed $200 million.
Cost, however, is not the only drawback. US forces will soon run out of interceptor missiles, which are essential in both East and West Asia, if Ansarallah continues with this tactic.
According to Fortis Analysis, the United States is operating eight guided missile cruisers and destroyers in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and between them, they have 800 SM-2 and SM-6 interceptor missiles for ship defense. The slow pace of these missiles’ manufacture means that any continuous battle to fight Ansarallah will swiftly deplete US interceptor missile supplies to dangerously low levels, according to Fortis Analysis. In the meantime, less than 50 SM-2 and fewer than 200 SM-6 missiles may be produced yearly by US weapons maker Raytheon.
In the Pacific Ocean, where China poses a danger with its hypersonic and ballistic missiles, as well as in the Red Sea and Mediterranean, where Russia is also active, the US Navy is left exposed if these inventories are reduced.
The conclusion of Fortis Analysis states that the longer Ansarallah keeps “throwing potshots” at US Navy, ally, and commercial naval assets, “the worse the calculus gets.” Supply chains win wars – and we are losing this critical domain.”
Furthermore, Ansarallah has not yet attempted a drone swarm strike, which would require US ships to simultaneously neutralize dozens of invading threats.
Naval analyst and Campbell University professor Salvatore Mercogliano said, “A swarm could tax the capabilities of a single warship but more importantly, it could mean weapons get past them to hit commercial ships.”
Additionally, the issue of how to restock US warships’ missile stock would arise.
“Djibouti, a US base on the Horn of Africa, is the only site to reload weapons, and that is close to the action,” he stated.
According to some experts, the ships would either head to the Gulf island of Bahrain, which is home to US Naval Forces Central Command and the US Fifth Fleet, or they would head to the Mediterranean Sea to reload from US ports in Italy and Greece.
The ‘great equalizer’
Consequently, senior researcher Abdulghani al-Iryani of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies characterized the Yemeni situation as one in which technology functions as a “great equalizer.”
“Your F-15 that costs millions of dollars means nothing because I have my drone that cost a few thousand dollars that will do just as much damage,” he said in an interview with the New York Times.
The US military is successful in creating expensive, highly sophisticated weaponry systems that bring in large sums of money for the arms industry, like the F-15 warplane. However, it is unable to produce enough of the weapons required to engage in and win actual conflicts across the globe, where supply chains play an even more crucial role.
The US has the same issue in Yemen that it encountered during the nearly two-year-long proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, which US officials concede is virtually lost.
Two million cheap, primitive 152mm artillery shells a year, or hundreds of thousands, may be produced in Moscow’s industrial base and supply lines to win a protracted, mostly trench-fought war of attrition. To put it plainly, the US doesn’t. The war industrial complex in Washington, D.C., can currently produce 288,000 shells per year at most and aims to reach one million by 2028—still less than half of what Russia can produce.
Furthermore, specialists in the West estimate that a single Russian 152mm artillery round costs $600, while an equivalent 155mm artillery shell in the West costs $5,000 to $6,000.
If Iran—which is beginning to show signs of doing so—joins the fight in favor of Ansarallah, the US’s security situation would only worsen.
For the first time since Israel began its war on Gaza, the US publicly accused Iran on December 23 of attacking commercial boats, claiming a drone “fired from Iran” had targeted a chemical tanker owned by Japan off the coast of India.
Tehran refuted the accusations on the same day, but it threatened to compel the closure of other vital maritime transport lines if Israel did not stop its war crimes in Gaza.
Mohammad Reza Naqdi, an official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), issued a warning: “America and its allies should expect the emergence of new resistance forces and the closure of other waterways with the continuation of these crimes.”
Recall that, with hundreds of ballistic and cruise missiles, some of which are capable of hitting Israel, Iran has the most extensive and varied missile arsenal in all of West Asia.
Iran declared on December 24 that it had introduced “fully smart” cruise missiles to its navy. These missiles include a 1,000 km range missile that can change targets while in flight and a 100 km range missile that can be mounted aboard warships.
The Axis of Resistance forces are already exerting pressure on US and Israeli forces in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen; the potential involvement of Iran in the battle is much more concerning for Washington, particularly during an election year.
Genocide as a foreign policy
Thus, to what extent are Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and President Joe Biden willing to go to support Israel’s continuous slaughter in the Gaza Strip?
Despite impending debt issues, the trio’s commitment to military aid packages for Israel and Ukraine begs the question of what their priorities are.
A reassessment of the situation may be necessary shortly due to the possible risk to the US Navy’s security in the Pacific Ocean. The US is now left with the choice of directly intervening militarily in Yemen, a move that carries ethical and geopolitical ramifications of its own.
At least some in the US national security establishment are calling for US forces to launch an attack and strike directly into Yemen because they understand how difficult it is to confront Ansarallah from a defensive position.
On December 28, former Vice Admiral Mark I. Fox and John W. Miller made the case that attacking the Yemeni forces behind these strikes is necessary to “deter and degrade” Iran and Ansarallah’s capacity to carry them out—”something no one has yet been willing to do.”
Yemen has recently recovered from an eight-year conflict that resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Tens of thousands of Yemenis were killed by US bombs employed by both Persian Gulf countries, while hundreds of thousands more perished from starvation and disease as a result of the blockade and siege.