Although Turkish Parliament Speaker Numan Kurtulmuş recently criticized the lack of cohesion and disorganization in the Islamic world regarding the struggle of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, there is still significant activity in the Middle East by pro-Iranian forces against Israel. The Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon are among the groups at the forefront of the pro-Palestinian movement. They have been carrying out attacks on Israel and its allies in the region, which is creating a new reality in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Since November 2023, the Houthi militia, also known as Ansar Allah, have increased targeted attacks on Israel-linked merchant ships in the Red Sea area and the Gulf of Aden, effectively impeding the free navigation of merchant ships through the Suez Canal. Several companies started seeking alternative routes and longer travel times to evade being targeted by the Houthis.
As the conflict in the Gaza Strip intensified, the Ansar Allah movement declared its intention to strike Israeli territory and block merchant ships associated with the Jewish state from traversing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis demanded that the Israeli army cease its military operation in the Palestinian enclave as a condition for their renunciation.
The initial assault on the merchant vessel took place on November 19. At the time, the Yemeni group reported the seizure of Galaxy Leader, an Israeli-owned vessel, flying the Bahamas Flag, along with a crew of 25 people (including citizens of Bulgaria, Mexico, Ukraine and the Philippines). Subsequently, the Houthis began targeting commercial ships that were not affiliated with Israel or did not sail to its ports, but were associated with Tel Aviv’s allies. Yemeni forces exerted pressure on Israel and its international business associates to end the war in the Gaza Strip.
Since mid-November, the Houthis have attacked over 20 ships and civilian vessels in the Red Sea, according to statistics from US Central Command. According to US President Joe Biden, the Houthis have carried out 27 attacks on commercial ships from over 50 countries. On January 9, the Ansar Allah movement launched its largest attack against US warships (destroyers) in Red Sea waters.
Due to the Houthi attacks and obstacles in the Red Sea, which accounts for over 20% of international container traffic and approximately 10% of global oil transportation, several companies have chosen to circumvent the troubled area by using Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Trade transit through the Red Sea decreased by 35%.
A.P. Møller – Mærsk, a Danish shipping and logistics company, and Hapag-Lloyd AG, a German international shipping and container transportation company, were among the first to announce the suspension of operations in the Red Sea on December 16. Other major shipping corporations, including the British oil and gas company BP, followed suit.
The abandonment of the Suez Canal, the shortest route from Europe to Asia, resulted in increased costs for maritime transportation worldwide. Military experts have discussed the possibility of a US military operation against the Houthis, who are supported by Iran.
To ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and counter Houthi attacks, the US announced the creation of a multinational naval task force comprising ten countries on December 19. This decision was made in response to the Yemenis’ audacious attack on chemical tanker Swan Atlantic on December 18. In addition to the United States, Operation Prosperity Guardian included the following countries: The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles, and Bahrain. However, not all countries in the multinational coalition were fully aligned with the US, as some refused to participate in naval operations.
In early December, seven US warships were present in the Eastern Mediterranean, while an additional 12 ships were deployed in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon aims to carry out precise strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen.
Recognizing the Arab world’s natural response to the international coalition’s actions against Yemen in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the US has no intention of engaging in a prolonged conflict with Sana’a. Washington is likely to limit itself to isolated operations aimed at eliminating the arsenal and other Houthi military facilities.
On January 12, the United States and Great Britain launched a large-scale attack on Ansar Allah motion objects in Yemen, including Sana’a and Al-Hudaydah, using combat aircraft and naval vessels, including submarines. The US-British coalition described their action as defensive, citing the ’unprecedented Houthi attacks’ in the Red Sea. The Anglo-Saxon strikes targeted the Houthi missiles, radar stations, and drones.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused the US and Britain of using excessive force and seeking to inflame the Red Sea region, trying to turn it into a ’sea of blood’. During his conversation with reporters, Erdoğan stated: “All that has been done is a disproportionate use of force. At the moment, they are trying to turn the Red Sea into a sea of blood.” Meanwhile, the Turkish leader drew a comparison between the actions of the Anglo-Saxons in Yemen and the bombing of Palestine by Israel.
This response of a NATO ally has elicited a negative response from the US and UK. In a recent interview with Sky News, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron publicly stated that the British government does not share Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s views on the US-British coalition strikes on Ansar Allah targets in Yemen.
In particular, David Cameron noted: “We don’t agree with what President Erdoğan has said. If you look at the action we have taken, it is actually backed by a very wide coalition of countries.” He also said that Turkey is an important NATO ally. However, in this case, the countries do not share similar positions.
Military spokesperson for Ansar Allah, Yahya Saree, reported that the Anglo-Saxons carried out 73 airstrikes in the capital city of Sana’a and the Governorates of Al Hudaydah, Taiz, Saada, and Hajjah. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 5 Houthis and injuries to 6 others.
It should be acknowledged that the actions taken by the US and Britain elicited a negative reaction, not only from the Turkish president. Thus, Russia considers the actions of Washington and London in Yemen to be illegitimate and in violation of international law. Moscow has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council regarding the attack on Yemen. However, the UNSC passed a resolution demanding an immediate cessation of Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The resolution did not address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip. Moscow did not endorse the resolution.
Despite the personal friendship between Recep Erdoğan and Richard Moore, as well as the close Turkish-British ties, Ankara has been unable to break the Anglo-Saxon alliance in favor of Tel Aviv in the situation with Israel. It is evident that the crisis in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is a result of Israel’s military operation against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. A solution to the issue of commercial shipping through the Suez Canal could be reached promptly following a ceasefire in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the US-British coalition is not so much addressing the issue of protecting Israel or Saudi Arabia and the UAE by attacking the Yemeni Houthis, but the interests of “their own pockets”, as Russian parliamentarian Leonid Slutsky notes. The reality is that due to a 35% decrease in trade transit through the Red Sea, both Washington and London are losing significant amounts of money on a daily basis.
Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”