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Will Red Sea Conflict Lead to All-Out War? Houthi Action and US Retaliation



Amid the current geopolitical landscape dominated by the Israel-Hamas conflict, a new player has taken centre stage. The Houthi have captured media attention and threatened to instigate a wider war in the region for their involvement in the conflict. 


Seizing control of Yemen's capital Sana’a in 2014, the Houthi group wields quite the reputation, constantly locking horns with the elected Yemeni government while entangling itself in prolonged battles with the Saudi-led coalition and its western maritime partners.


The period following October 7th bore witness to a surge in aggressive manoeuvres by the Houthi regime. Launching a targeted campaign against Israeli-linked shipping vessels in the Red Sea, their actions have triggered a substantial reduction in shipping activity at Israel's Eilat port, with reports indicating an 85% decrease. This marks a seismic escalation in global shipping disruptions, reminiscent of the fallout from the Russo-Ukrainian grain deal breakdown.


In response to these provocations, Israel has effectively leveraged its diplomatic channels, rallying the United States and its allies to intervene and safeguard its shipping interests in the Red Sea. Despite scepticism regarding political motivations, the U.S. maintains there is no direct correlation between its strikes on Houthi targets and the concurrent conflict in Gaza. 


The looming question emerges: is there a genuine potential for a full-blown conflict in the region, pitting the U.S. and its coalition against Iran and its axis of resistance?


The region teeters on the edge of a potentially explosive situation, with the question evolving from if to when such a conflict might erupt. On December 18th, the U.S. unveiled Operation Prosperity Guardian, a strategic initiative aimed at countering Houthi strikes in the Red Sea. The operation initially involved precision strikes on eight Houthi facilities, including diverse military infrastructure associated with missile and air surveillance capabilities per the US state department on Jan 23rd.


The Houthi rebels, far from adopting a defensive stance, have defiantly pledged to retaliate with "strong and effective measures." Their commitment to persisting actions in the Red Sea sets the stage for prolonged conflict with the Iranian-backed group. This unfolding scenario coincides with a deadly strike by Kataib Hezbollah against U.S. forces in Jordan, resulting in three servicemen killed and 41 others injured, prompting a resolute U.S. vow to respond with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.


Beyond the Houthi rebels, a broader network of Iran-backed militia groups continue to actively launch strikes against pro-Israeli governments. Triggering a responsive cycle from U.S. forces, potentially catalysing an all-out war.


Complicating matters even further, the Houthi rebels have broadened their targets to include U.S. military vessels, expanding the potential scope for a wider regional conflict. The U.S. has attempted a more restrained approach, refraining from strikes within Iranian territory while issuing warnings and international condemnations.


While some may interpret the cautious U.S. approach as a deterrent to an all-out war, the escalating tit-for-tat strikes between the Houthi rebels and the U.S. signal the growing potential for a broader conflict in this already turbulent region. Image: Houthi Military Media/via Reuters


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