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How Biden Can Immediately End Iranian-backed Attacks in the Red Sea

How Biden Can Immediately End Iranian-backed Attacks in the Red Sea
By Con Coughlin

Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.

If the Biden administration is really serious about tackling the threat posed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels to international shipping in the Red Sea, it needs to authorise the type of decisive military action that will deter the Iranian proxy from undertaking further attacks.

At a time when Iran is reluctant to provoke a direct confrontation with the US and its allies in response to the Gaza crisis, Tehran has instead opted to use its various proxies in the Middle East to do its dirty work.

This has resulted in Hezbollah, the Shia Muslim terrorist organisation that Iran controls in southern Lebanon, to launch daily attacks against northern Israel, while Iranian-backed militias have targeted US military assets in Syria and Iraq more than 100 times just since mid-October and at least 151 times since President Joe Biden has been in office, to drive the US out of the oil-rich Middle East.

By far the most successful strategy, though, has been Iran’s effort to disrupt global shipping in the Red Sea by encouraging its Houthi allies in Yemen to intensify their attacks in the region.

The Houthis have relied heavily on Iran for military and financial support during Yemen’s long-running civil war. The majority of the long-range missiles and drones used by the Houthis are of Iranian origin.

Western security officials now believe Iran is providing the Houthis with the military assistance required to target international shipping in the Red Sea as part of a concerted effort to disrupt the global economy.

The majority of the Houthi attacks have taken place in the 16-mile-wide Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, connecting the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, which is a key access point for the Suez Canal. An estimated 12% of global trade passes through the route, a vital passage for shipments of oil from the Gulf to Europe and North America.

Targeting global shipping is a tried and trusted tactic of the Iranian regime. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Iran regularly attempted to disrupt shipping passing through the narrow Strait of Hormuz by launching attacks by fast speed boats manned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at the entrance in the Persian Gulf in an attempt to inflict damage on the global economy.

The Iranians are attempting to use the same tactic to disrupt global trade passing through the Suez Canal by encouraging their Houthi proxies to use similar techniques in the Red Sea.

Security officials have noted a significant increase in attacks being launched against shipping in the region by Houthi terrorists using fast speed boats, employing the same tactic the IRGC used to great effect in the Strait of Hormuz in the 1980s.

In addition, the Houthis have used Iranian-made missiles and drones to attack shipping, as well as launching attacks against Israel. The Houthis say they are primarily targeting shipping with links to Israel, although most of the attacks have focused on shipping heading for other destinations.

The Houthis’ attacks follow calls by senior Iranian officials for members of Iran’s so-called “axis of resistance” — a motley collection of Islamist terror groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas — to take pre-emptive action in response to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to destroy Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure.

The surge in Houthi activity this month prompted the US and its allies to issue a strongly-worded statement condemning the attacks on shipping, warning that the Houthis will face the consequences of their action if they do not desist.

The statement issued by the White House, which was signed by a total of 12 countries, warned:

“Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews. The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways”.

Apart from the US, the declaration was signed by the UK, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

The US and its allies, including Britain and France, have already assembled a powerful naval armada in the region to tackle the Houthi threat. In one recent incident, the Houthis lost at least ten fighters after three of their vessels were repelled by US forces in the Red Sea.

Since November, the Houthis have attacked commercial shipping in the Red Sea more than 20 times using missiles, drones and fast boats.

Despite the disruption the constant attacks are causing, with many major shipping companies now refusing to operate in the Red Sea area, the Biden administration remains hesitant about approving the decisive military action required to liquidate the Houthi threat.

As has been the case with Biden’s equivocal response to the Ukraine crisis, where US support for Kyiv has been constrained by fears of provoking Moscow, the White House appears reluctant to authorise forceful military action against the Houthis that might prompt a confrontation with Iran.

The Biden administration needs to understand that, when it comes to dealing with autocratic states like Russia and Iran, brute force is the only language they understand, whereas the slightest hint of weakness will be gleefully exploited to their benefit.

It would be preferable to have Iran concerned about US action, whether military or addressing the regime’s hold on power.

While the Pentagon is reported to have drawn up a number of options for strikes against the Yemen-based rebels, the White House has declined to give its approval.

US national security officials are now reported to be working with allies such as the UK to examine other options including covert operations, which would entail deploying special forces that could disable the engines of the Houthi fast boats, or explosives to sink them while they are in harbour.

There have already been reports in the UK media that special forces have been used to destroy Houthi vessels being used to attack global shipping.

Certainly, with the Houthis showing no sign of ending their attacks, and the disruption to global shipping increasing by the day, the Biden administration needs to demonstrate that it will not tolerate Iran’s attempts to threaten the global economy.

Rather than worrying about the response US-led military action might provoke from Iran, the US and its allies need to demonstrate that they will decisively confront the terror tactics adopted by Iran and its proxies, and authorise the uncompromising military action that will end the Houthis’ attacks on key shipping routes once and for all.

Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

Original Article

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