Houthi attacks will have 'catastrophic repercussions', says Yemeni minister

Moammar Eryani says rebel group's Red Sea actions could undermine peace efforts and aggravate humanitarian suffering

A fighter keeps watch on the deck of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, seized by the Houthis near Al Salif port on the Red Sea in the province of Hodeidah, Yemen. EPA
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Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea could mean “catastrophic repercussions” for Yemen, Minister of Information Moammar Eryani told The National on Friday.

The Iran-backed group’s actions could not only disrupt efforts to resolve the conflict there, but they might also increase prices of imported goods at a time of humanitarian crisis, the minister said.

Mr Eryani said the rebels are involved “in an Iranian war on international shipping lines in the Red Sea, Bab Al Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden, all the way to the Indian Ocean, through a series of terrorist attacks and acts of piracy”.

This “threatens to undermine the efforts of brotherly and friendly countries to end the war and bring peace”, he said.

“It portends catastrophic repercussions on the national economy: a higher cost of insurance for ships arriving at Yemeni ports, leading to higher prices of food and goods, amid a difficult humanitarian situation and harsh living conditions.”

Houthis join conflict

Shortly after the Israel-Gaza war broke out on October 7, the Houthis announced their intention to stop Israeli ships from travelling across the Red Sea. However, attacks by the rebels have mostly focused on non-Israeli maritime traffic.

About 10 per cent of annual global trade passes through the Red Sea.

Senior executives at regional cargo companies expect Arab Red Sea ports to be affected.

The militia, which controls the Yemeni capital and has been engaged in an armed conflict with forces loyal to the internationally recognised government since 2014, said their actions were in support of their ally Hamas, which Iran also supports.

“Despite the attempts of the Houthi militia to find political and popular cover for these operations by linking them to the events” in Gaza, “the data on the attacked ships confirms that there is no connection between them and the Israelis”, said Mr Eryani.

“These allegations are merely an excuse to practice piracy and implement Iranian dictates to threaten maritime security and global trade movement.”

Western diplomats told The National that the US and its allies were studying options to respond to Houthi attacks, including attacks in Yemen.

Asked about those potential strikes, Mr Eryani said the government “cannot predict the course of events in light of the complex regional and international situations, but the Houthi attacks open the door wide to all possibilities”.

“They reveal the nature of the terrorist Houthi militia and its clear disregard for the consequences of its actions, and its indifference to the disastrous repercussions of any new escalation of the situation in Yemen,” he added.

Houthis claim responsibility for rockets fired at two ships in Red Sea

Houthis claim responsibility for rockets fired at two ships in Red Sea

US warning to militia

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in Tel Aviv on Friday, following Houthi strikes on two ships in the Bab Al Mandeb, that the US is “building a coalition” and will take “every step” to deter the Houthi rebels.

The escalation came as Yemen's warring parties were considering a broader ceasefire to allow for peace talks. But the Houthis' actions are now jeopardising the process, according to Yemeni officials.

"Commercial traffic transit in the Red Sea is more dangerous now than it was before because of these Houthi attacks on commercial shipping," US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.

"That is ... why we are working so hard to to to bolster and strengthen the existing combined maritime forces that were already established in the region. And I think we'll have more to say about the specifics on that in coming days."

Mr Eryani said the Houthis have launched attacks against American, Saudi and other ships in the Red Sea region and planted sea mines in territorial waters, but “the world has ignored our warnings”.

He urged the international community to “take decisive action” in support of the Yemeni government “by enhancing the capabilities of the coastguard to safeguard Yemeni waters, improve their ability to protect Yemeni waters and involve them in multi-country naval missions to protect international waters near Yemen”.

This month, US President Joe Biden's administration imposed sanctions on 13 people and entities over claims they provided “tens of millions of dollars” in Iran-linked funds to the Houthi rebels.

Those were the first sanctions on the Houthis from Washington since the start of the Israel-Gaza war, which has led to an eruption of activity among Iranian proxies in the wider region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Mr Eryani said it is also time to classify “the Houthi militia as a terrorist organisation and including it on international terrorist lists, drying up the movement’s financial, political and media sources, and imposing restrictions on trade and international relations with the group”.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 5:06 AM