The Red Sea strait of Bab al-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden, vital routes for the regional and global flow of trade and commerce, are under threat from the actions of the Houthis (Ansarallah), experts tell Al-Mashareq.
Iran continues to arm the Houthis through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), undermining security in the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandeb, they said.
The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) have been working to maintain the security of navigation through these waters in order to ensure the smooth flow of commercial activity.
Bahraini political writer and researcher Abdullah al-Junaid pointed to a "growing threat of disruption of international navigation in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait with Houthi sea mines or attacks on commercial and military vessels".
This situation necessitates that CMF and the US Navy intensify efforts to ensure the security of vital commercial shipping lanes, he told Al-Mashareq.
The closure of this maritime route to commercial vessels would increase global oil prices and lead to billions of dollars in financial losses, he said.
Bab al-Mandeb's significance
"Bab al-Mandeb strait is of crucial importance to international shipping, as commercial vessels pass through it from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, then through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea," al-Junaid said.
The 25-kilometre wide passage is one of the busiest maritime routes for oil transport in the Middle East and the world, with more than 60 commercial vessels and about 3.3 million barrels of oil passing through it every day.
In October 2016, the UAE reported injuries among civilian crewmen of a vessel hit by the Houthis in Bab al-Mandeb.
The vessel was identified as the HSV-2 Swift, a high-speed catamaran which had been chartered from the Abu-Dhabi-based National Marine Dredging Company.
The missile was later identified as an Iranian Qader missile, al-Junaid said.
The same month, the US Navy destroyer USS Mason was moving through Bab al-Mandeb when it was fired upon by the Houthis, prompting the first direct US strikes targeting a Houthi radar site, the Pentagon said.
US Navy removes sea mines
The presence of the US Navy and CMF in Bab al-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea is imperative in view of Iran’s expansionist agenda, said Col. Rashid Mohammed al-Marri, formerly of the Dubai Police Anti-Narcotics Department.
"This military presence has so far been able to curb this expansion and curtail the capabilities the Houthi militias possess owing to Iran’s unlimited support, especially their missile-related capabilities," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The military threat is not limited to missiles, but also explosives-laden remote-controlled boats that were used against Saudi [naval] forces, and hundreds of sea mines planted by the Iranian navy," he said.
The US Navy has been removing these mines for some time to prevent disruption of naval or commercial activity, he added, noting that some of them have exploded on Yemeni naval forces operating in the area.
"The counter-Iranian military presence in the region is very necessary, because if the IRGC manages to control this region it would control international navigation," he said, which could facilitate the illegal transport of arms.
A strategic economic conduit
The support provided by the US Navy and the CMF in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden "relates to not only securing the region militarily and economically but also the economic security of many countries around the world", said economist and Ain Shams University professor Shaher Abdullah.
"Therefore, getting the IRGC and Houthi militias away from the region is vital after the exposure of Iran’s designs aimed at seizing control of the region to hinder trade and movement in the Red Sea," he told Al-Mashareq.
"Bab al-Mandeb’s importance lies in it being an internationally strategic economic conduit, and the matter is not only about Yemen or the region around it," he added.
Iran recognises that controlling the strait can severely impede the movement of international commerce, Abdullah said.
He pointed out that "3.8 million barrels of oil shipped to Europe pass through this region every day, and 10% of the world's oil trade passes through it in oil tankers, as well as 15% of international maritime trade".
"If it is shut down, the economic repercussions and consequences would be dire for many countries around the world as well as global transport companies, which would suffer heavy losses," he said.