Yemen’s armed Houthi rebels have recently attacked several commercial ships in the Red Sea in protest against Israeli strikes on Gaza. In this situation, some countries have formed a joint force under the leadership of the United States. Named as Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG). Although the US has its European and Middle Eastern allies in this force, three NATO countries – France, Italy and Spain – objected to join it.
Officially, OPG is designed to ensure safety for commercial vessels. But it is too vague for any naval officer. Because, they want politicians to direct their specific actions and send clear orders necessary to achieve the desired results.
In the current situation, commercial ships coming to or from the Suez Canal are being attacked with missiles and drones. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for these attacks. Who owns the 450 km long coast of the Red Sea. All the missiles used by the Houthis have been launched from the ground. But the missiles used by the Houthis can damage very few large cargo ships.
According to information released by the US Central Naval Command, Houthi rebels attacked at least 15 commercial ships in November and December.
At first, the Houthis said that they would only attack Israeli-owned ships. They later said that ships using Israeli ports and trading with the country would be attacked. However, after several attacks, it is understood that not only Israel is concerned, but any ship in the Red Sea can be attacked.
Surface-to-air missiles have been used to shoot down US and French warships in the Red Sea. Many of the countries participating in the OPG have warships with this capability. All modern surface-to-air missiles can hit land and sea.
If OPG’s objective is to protect commercial ships only, they can use a policy that has been around for hundreds of years. Whereas slower commercial vessels adhere to a certain distance. And they are protected by fast warships. This process is effective. Because UK, Russia, Malta used this strategy in World War II.
But every strategy has limitations. Such fleets are very large, and the huge ships here have to maintain a distance of several miles to maintain a safe distance. Meanwhile, sailors on commercial ships do not have military training. They have no experience in this regard.
If their fleet has enough weapons—even missiles—they must use them carefully. Because, if they use these weapons, they have to re-equip them. While this is possible by sea, the US and its allies need a port where Houthi missiles cannot reach.
Yemen has a 463 km stretch of coastline that is dangerous for Westerners. Commercial ships travel at a speed of 28 kilometers per hour. From that calculation, it can be said that the Western ships were attacked by Houthi short-range missiles even after 16 hours on this route.
The Houthis have enough weapons. Their ability to launch missile strikes from a variety of directions has long puzzled naval planners. This was seen last October 19. At that time, the Houthis attacked the American Navy warship USS Kearney with four cruise missiles and 15 drones. This ship is still in the Red Sea. It is also a part of OPG.
Analysts say the Houthis carried out the attack possibly to test the enemy’s reaction. The attack lasted for about 9 hours. The attack forced the US ship’s crew to make full preparations to intercept the missile.
Any naval officer would say that the solution to this problem would be to destroy the Houthis’ arsenal by carrying out a ground operation in Yemen. Analysts say that the Arab and Islamic world considers the United States to be on Israel’s side in the Gaza war. Attacking Yemen in such a situation poses a political risk to the West.
Meanwhile, the Houthis say they are attacking the Red Sea to end the war. Keeping these things in mind, the United States has repeatedly said that it does not want the war to spread.
The White House and the Pentagon are facing a difficult test regarding the Houthis. If the US does not take action now, the Red Sea route will soon be closed, which could have serious consequences for the US, European and Asian economies. If they want to take commercial ships with warship fleets, it will also increase the economic cost. If the US attacks Yemen again, the war could escalate dangerously.
Taking these issues into consideration, France, Italy and Spain are keeping distance from OPG. They like to deploy their warships in the Red Sea. Because, if the US Navy finally attacks Yemen, the Europeans will be able to claim that they had no hand in escalating the war.
References: BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Forbes