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Houthi threat to shipping

27 June 2019 Ludovico Carlino

On 18 June, the President of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mushat, threatened further military action against countries engaged in military operations against the group in Yemen. Mushat said the group was ready to target oil facilities and oil tankers passing through the Red Sea and Arabian Sea and threatened missile attacks against Saudi-led coalition members Sudan and Egypt. He stated this decision was "purely internal" and aimed at "destroying the oil industry in the country of aggression", adding that any ship carrying oil in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea was now a legitimate target. The threat followed intensified Houthi unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and missile attacks in May and early June targeting airports and energy facilities in southern and central Saudi Arabia, part of what the Houthis have described as an "airport for airport" strategy intended to force the Saudi-led coalition to lift its near three-year blockade of Sanaa airport.

Significance

IHS Markit assesses Mushat's threat as credible, as the Houthis have access to weaponised UAVs, unmanned marine vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (UM-VBIEDs), and sea mines to engage both military and commercial ships off the Yemeni coast, with military and commercially flagged vessels from countries participating in the Saudi-led coalition at highest risk. The Houthis are unlikely to risk escalating their attacks to include indiscriminate and recurring attacks targeting international commercial shipping, which would almost certainly invite a concerted military effort against them.

There is an increasing risk, however, of one-off demonstrative attacks and accidental targeting due to misidentification of commercial vessels. The main risk is likely to be near Mocha and Midi ports, and while commercial vessels are at high risk off the coast of Hodeidah, this risk is somewhat mitigated by coalition naval escorts. There is also a growing risk of the Houthis attempting to deploy sea mines beyond contested coastlines near Midi, and potentially off the waters of Zubair archipelago and the Hanish islands, but outright closure of the strait, even temporarily, likely remains beyond Houthi capabilities. Coalition interception of Houthi-manned skiffs in the Gulf of Aden would be a key indicator of attempts to expand the geographical range of attacks to the Arabian Sea.

Posted 27 June 2019 by Ludovico Carlino, Senior Analyst, Country Risk – Middle East and North Africa

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