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  • Samuel Reifel

The Trillion Dollar Red Sea Crisis

Thousands of miles away from the war between Israel and Hamas lies the Red Sea, which has recently seen boats traveling in international waters being targeted by drones, rockets, and helicopters. Pirates have also intercepted a vessel. But how did it get like this?


The Yemeni Houthis are a rebel group founded in 1992 but have been steadily gaining a following (and power) since the early 2000s. Their takeover of the capital of Yemen in September of 2014 sparked the Yemeni Civil War, which remains active to this day, though in recent years there has not been as much fighting. Even worse, the war has sparked a humanitarian crisis that has left ~80% of the country struggling to put food on the table. 


Although the Houthis now control a sizable portion of Yemen, it is important to note that they are not internationally recognized as the official government of Yemen. The group is often compared to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, as both are all but confirmed to be funded by Iran and have received money and weapons from Tehran. Hamas also falls in this group of governing bodies. 


Now turning the Houthi’s Red Sea upheaval – on October 19th, they launched a series of indiscriminate missile and drone barrages on Israel. Though few did real damage, it showed that they were willing to get involved, which could escalate the war. Over the next couple of months, the group started attacking and hijacking many commercial ships (in international waters). The first belonged to Israeli companies, but as time went on, the targets seemed to have no relation to Israel at all – with many being from western companies. 


To deter these Houthi attacks, the U.S. sent military ships to patrol and protect ships in the region, but they were met with drone and anti-ship missile attacks. The attacks were first denied by the Houthis, but they then confirmed that they had targeted the American vessels traveling in international waters. As of the writing of this article (January 15), the Houthis have launched attacks against 27 of civilian cargo ships, with many being fended off. However, some attacks have slipped through Western defenses and caused significant damage. 


Given the safety risk, can’t the boats just go around?


Well, no, and this is because over 100 years ago, on November 17, 1869, the Suez Canal opened, forever changing global shipping. It linked the Red Sea and Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean – meaning boats no longer had to travel around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa – cutting shipping times dramatically.

 

Today, over $1 trillion dollars in goods passes through the Suez Canal a year. Massive quantities of oil, mostly coming from Saudi Arabia, also travel through the Red Sea, which is connected to the Suez Canal. The African country Djibouti is situated right next to Yemen, only disconnected by a small strait, right next to the entrance to the Red Sea, and thus, the Suez Canal; its strategic location has helped it gain recognition from many countries and is the reason an otherwise overlooked country holds 8 military bases for the likes of the U.S., China, and the UK. 


Those military facilities give security so that in the case of a  global conflict, those countries can ensure that the strait remains open. It is clear that Yemen occupies an important location, and the Houthis are using it to disrupt global trade, so what should the rest of the world do about it?


On January 3rd, 2024, the U.S. and many other countries sent a message to the rebels – telling them that what they are doing is illegal and to stop immediately. The Houthis have disregarded the message, refusing to slow down, so the U.S. has decided to take matters into its own hands; along with the United Kingdom, they have conducted various strikes on Houthi military installations. So far, there have been no reported civilian casualties as a result of these strikes.


Countries throughout the world are increasingly willing to intervene in some manner for the sake of global trade and economic stability. As for us students, we can only hope that this conflict will not escalate into a regional war. 


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