The recent attack on an Emirati civilian vessel in Bab al-Mandeb Strait by the Houthis' Ansarallah shows that Iran and its proxies are not averse to threatening international maritime activity to achieve their goals, experts tell Al-Mashareq.
The October 1st attack on the vessel , owned by the UAE’s National Marine Dredging Company and used to ferry humanitarian aid to Yemen, violates international law and threatens the security of regional waters, they said.
Through the actions of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and those of its proxies, the Iranian regime continues to disrupt maritime traffic in international waterways, they said, noting that Bab al-Mandeb is a vital shipping corridor between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Ansarallah's effort to shift the arena of conflict from land to sea comes amid growing international condemnation of Iran’s maritime activities, which include deploying speedboats to disrupt maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.
In response to several recent attacks on its ships, the US on Thursday (October 13th) bombed three radar sites controlled by Ansarallah, on Yemen's Red Sea Coast, AFP reported.
The first direct US strikes against the group "targeted radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb", the Pentagon said in a statement.
"The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world," the statement continued.
Increasing tensions, on Thursday, AFP reported that two Iranian destroyers had been dispatched to the Gulf of Aden on October 5th.
'A threat to maritime traffic'
In response to the attack on the Emirati civilian vessel, Saudi Arabia held "Gulf Shield 1" military manoeuvers on October 4th in the Arabian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and Sea of Oman, with the participation of the air force of the Royal Saudi Navy, the Royal Saudi Air Force, and Marine and Naval Special Forces.
The UN Security Council condemned the attack in an October 4th statement, saying council members "take threats to shipping around Bab al-Mandeb, a strategically important shipping passage, extremely seriously".
The Security Council called for such attacks to cease immediately and urged necessary steps to be taken to de-escalate the situation.
The attack on the Emirati vessel is "conclusive evidence" that the Houthis, specifically the armed militia operating in al-Hodeidah, pose a growing threat to maritime traffic, Yemeni political analyst Omar Abdul Aziz told Al-Mashareq.
By carrying out acts of piracy against ships transporting food and medical supplies, the Houthis are "violating all maritime and international laws", he said, calling on Yemeni and coalition forces to retake control of al-Hodeidah and Midi ports.
These two Red Sea ports serve as launch points for vessels used in attacks by the Houthis and allied militias against ships in regional waters, he said.
It is "indisputable" that Iran, through its IRGC navy, continues to support these provocative actions and prolong the conflict in Yemen by supplying the Houthis and their allies with weapons, he added.
What is most concerning about the attack on the Emirati vessel is that "the Houthis possess specialised radars to guide missiles towards vessels in regional waters", Emirates Policy Centre president Ebtesam Alketbi told Al-Mashareq.
The matter is "no longer limited to them possessing a large stockpile of weapons", she said, adding that the "unfettered activity" of the Iran-backed Houthis and their allies in regional waters shows the region "is no longer safe".
The surprise attack on the UAE vessel confirms the Houthis and their allies continue to possess capabilities that enable them to conduct qualitative military operations on the ground and at sea, Alketbi said.
Standing united against Iranian threats
The Houthis remain "a vital tool in Iran’s hand that it can use to ignite a conflict in a strategic area, such as Bab al-Mandeb Strait or the Strait of Hormuz", Alketbi said.
"It is important not to underestimate the capabilities the Houthis possess, which are in essence possessed by the Iranians, for they have non-conventional weapons and sophisticated equipment that pose a threat to coalition naval ships and vessels and even civil vessels, as we have seen in previous Iranian manoeuvers," she said.
It is imperative to contain the situation in Bab al-Mandeb Strait to minimize the chances of future attacks against ships, Alketbi added.
"At a time in which Iran is acting with a free hand in a number of countries, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen , the Gulf states are called on more than ever to unify their visions and policies to stand united against Iranian terrorist threats in regional waters," she said.
Qatari researcher Abdul Hamid al-Ansari told Al-Mashareq the Saudi military drills send "a strong message to the Tehran government and its lackeys".
"The Gulf needs to have a strong and resolute presence at sea in order to be a deterrent force against any threat," he said, adding that the incident with the Emirati vessel is an Iranian attempt to exploit the absence of a robust Gulf presence in regional waters.
"If Iran comes face to face with a deterrent force it will not risk attacking ships again," he said.