US-led taskforce deploys in Red Sea as Middle East crisis threatens to escalate beyond Gaza.

The US is reportedly considering strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen that have been menacing commercial ships in the Red Sea since the conflict began in Gaza.

The Pentagon has a range of options for missile attacks on Houthi positions and has moved the Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group into position off the coast of Yemen.


This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal. If you would like to submit your own article on this topic or any other, please see our submission guidelines


Since November 2023, the Iran-backed Houthis have conducted several attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Their attacks have increased navigation risks in the region and affected risk perception in the maritime sector. The economic and geopolitical implications are felt much beyond the coast of Yemen.

The world economy is strongly dependent on the global maritime supply chain. About 80% of international trade by volume is transported by sea. This figure rises to 95% for the UK. From mobile phones to clothes and from coffee to sugar, the manufactured items we use and the food we consume on a daily basis have been, at least in part, transported by sea.

Supply chain vulnerabilities

It does not take much to disrupt the global maritime supply chain. For instance, a simple accident that blocked the Suez Canal for six days in 2021 or the shortage of labour in Chinese ports during the COVID pandemic have been enough to negatively affect maritime supply chains and the global economy.

Intentional disruptions of the maritime supply chain by pirates or terrorists pose a challenge that goes beyond simple logistics.

Attacks on civilian shipping directly affect insurance premiums and deter operators from transiting through certain areas for financial and security reasons. The private maritime sector is not immune to geopolitics, and higher insurance premiums or the cost of rerouting ships eventually trickle down to consumers.

Piracy is a for-profit criminal activity that has disrupted maritime trade for decades, especially in eastern and western Africa. States have devoted substantial resources to deter and combat pirates, both at sea (for example deploying a naval task force to patrol shipping lanes) and on land to address the underlying socioeconomic causes of piracy.

Politically motivated groups, including terrorist organisations, pose a different type of threat. Their primary objective is not to make money but to increase the visibility of their organisation, or to exercise leverage on other political actors at the regional or global level.

This is achieved by conducting attacks that increase risk and risk perception in a given area, disrupt maritime supply chains, and have disproportionate impacts on the geopolitical situation.

Limited options

The Houthis are politically motivated. Their attacks aim to have an impact on the war in Gaza. Their location along a major sea lane of communication in the Red Sea gives them an asymmetrical advantage when it comes to attacking commercial shipping.

Major shipping companies and operators, from Maersk to BP, have paused operations in the Red Sea. Oil prices are expected to rise. Consequently, Houthis’ attacks affect commerce and the economy much beyond the Red Sea. But options to address the threat are limited.

Politically motivated groups are more difficult to deter than pirates, because they are often willing to die for their cause. They are not looking for a ransom or bounty, but are trying to destroy or damage ships and disrupt shipping, so deploying vessel protection detachments or private security companies personnel onboard will have minimal or no effect.

Military response

Failing to deter Houthis from attacking commercial shipping, the second-best option is to increase naval presence to patrol the Red Sea. But this is not without political risks, since a further militarisation of the crisis might be used by the Houthis and others to inflame the geopolitical situation in Yemen and in the whole region.

As part of what it has called “Operation Prosperity Guardian”, the US has assembled an international naval task force – including UK naval assets – which will have capabilities to intercept missiles and defend commercial shipping in case of an attack.

But, with a limited number of warships to patrol a large area and with early warning time for missile attacks limited due to the proximity of Yemen, it will be difficult to successfully defend against absolutely all attacks and prevent any damage from occurring.

That said, the symbolic value of such a task force is important. The task force’s success will be evaluated based on its ability in the short-term to add to existing mechanisms to reassure insurers, operators and global markets that the route is safe enough for shipping operations, without risking military escalation in an extremely turbulent region.The Conversation

Basil Germond, Professor of International Security, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Professor, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University.
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Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

And the Us have just accused Iran of launching a drone attack against a tanker off the coast of India…well away from the Middle East. Iran is warning it will close shipping lanes everywhere it can if the west continues to support Israel…as Iran is essentially using the Houthi’s as a proxy to attack into the Red Sea it would not surprise me at all if we did not see Hezbollah start to attack shipping in the eastern med.This is not a very good place to be at all….and it’s a very nice Christmas present for Putin as well.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Can see the USA using a carrier shortly if things don’t settle down 👀🇺🇸

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Unfortunately I think your right as it’s not going to settle down, it’s going to escalate further and further…the only positive side geopolitically is that it’s probably to early for china to capitalise on…if this had happened in 2-3 years I think China would use it as a distraction while it initiated an attack on Taiwan ( china would be aiming to drag aligned nations into hitting western shipping lanes as part of its wider planning as part of any U.S. China war).

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

It’s escalated, just seen India is sending 3 of their most modern Guided Missile Destroyers to the area to “deter and defend” shipping. India is heavily dependant on Oil from Iraq and Suaudi Arabia.
This could get interesting as the Houthi are attacking any ship with connections to Israel. Well both the 2 Type 15 A and brand new Type 15B are equipped with IAI MF STAR AESA Radars and armed with Israeli Barak 8 missiles.

Looks like India is Pissed off 🤔

Luke Rogers
Luke Rogers
1 month ago

Would decoupling the West from Asia and an endless stream of plastic tat and inferior low cost goods really be that bad? Energy is gradually being reordered away from Russia and fossil fuels from the Mid East. Shortening supply lines to more local and reliable partners across the board may be to our benefit long term. Let the sandpit have its 30 years war over a religious schism. Let China stagnate economically with no markets to sell into. The Western hemisphere is resource and energy rich if utilised properly, we don’t need the hassle of Asia artificially undercutting costs etc.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  Luke Rogers

I think at some point it will happen catastrophically anyway…there is very likely going to be a china lead block vs western lead block world wide conflict sooner rather than later…and china has been decoupling a lot of its manufacturing supply lines from the west as well as stimulating internal markets as well as locking down and significantly limiting exports of what it considers strategically important resources for modern manufacturing ( its been war hardening its economy for around the last 5 years..costing it a fortune in purposefully lost growth..around 2-3% per year of lost growth) …unfortunately the west being… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Jonathan
Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  Luke Rogers

I think you are living in the past if you believe it’s all plastic tat. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’d hazard a guess that more than 80% of the people accessing this website are using hardware made in China. My phone and my two laptops, despite their impeccably non-Chinese branding, are made in China. Get out your magnifying glass and find the fine print. Where’s yours made?

Tams
Tams
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Yes, but how much of that needs to be replaced every few years?

Answer: very, very, very little of it.

AlexS
AlexS
1 month ago
Reply to  Luke Rogers

 Let China stagnate economically with no markets to sell into.

Journalism the worst profession ever is what makes possible to have these opinions. World is changing.

China alone is a giant market, India another, both have 1.4 B population, many other medium to large countries in Asia.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Infact china has purposely developed its own internal markets and markets that are not the west…it’s estimated to have cost itself 2-3% of growth a year doing this, but it’s a cost china has willingly paid to decouple its dependence on western markets as well as western supply chains.

Ex-Marine
Ex-Marine
1 month ago

The “Taskforce” being the US Navy, a single Royal Navy ship with “support” from the UAE and Seychelles. France, Spain and Italy have been called in for dinner by their Mum’s and left. Apparently, France kicked off rejecting US Navy leadership and command going to the Navy with 2 Super Carriers, 34 ships and two Subs in theatre. Pressuring Italy and Spain to join them and reject US command and sulk home.

Those three are in NATO. I suspect they will only really work in a coalition when they are directly under threat and will scream for US help.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Ex-Marine

Generally an avid fan of peaceful coexistence, but occasionally, circumstances dictate otherwise. Then, best to terminate threat w/ extreme prejudice (preferably w/ precision munitions). Should have a salutary effect if opponents bombed into a pre-Stone Age state.

Very unsurprising conduct by the French, many years ago my father advised that the French were always willing to fight to the last drop of American and British blood.

Jonno
Jonno
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

The French are a becoming a real problem. Now they have lost most of their investments in Russia been thrown out of the Sahel they are becoming unpredictable and not our friend as usual. USA isnt helping itself with a geriatric president and an isolationist Trump on the horizon things look headed for greater instability.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonno

Interesting, perhaps the French would no longer be averse to seizing frozen Russian assets. Some country should initiate this policy.

Yes, at a total loss to explain US political landscape. Amazing choices for POTUS in 2024, given a population of 330+ M. 😳😱

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

In still hoping the republicans get a sudden bout of sanity and vote for a different presidential candidate.

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Perhaps, but based on current polls, suggest not wagering heavily on that proposition.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

Yes it’s a real problem, Joe B is in really simply to old, a man in his 80s should not be leading a nation…. As for the orange man..he is simply in danger of scragging US strategic relationships with its key allies and markets..AKA Europe. Which would be fine if china was not hotting up for a major war with the US..in which the winner will be decided by world wide influence, allies, access to markets and strategic resources to maintain its economy over a long drawn out war….if Europe goes neutral on a U.S. China war and chinas allies… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

It is certainly possible that there could be a future drawn-out, conventional Anglo-Sino war, but all should contemplate the proposition that either side, upon serious disadvantage, will deliberately cross the nuclear threshold.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  FormerUSAF

I think possibly that a U.S. china war could probably stay conventional…although both sides would probably suffer conventional attack on their homelands…neither side can actually be threatened with utter drestruction unless it goes nuclear…this I think will keep it conventional…the pacific itself will protect the world from nuclear war leading to a war of strategic exhaustion ( with the loser holding a big old grudge and a second round at some point likely) ….where as a soviet NATO world war 3 was always likely to be a war to destruction..simply because the landmass allowed a conventional force to destroy the… Read more »

Westpoint
Westpoint
1 month ago
Reply to  Ex-Marine

As an American, I genuinely don’t understand why Americans & Brits continue to act like the French are our “allies” and quite frankly I wonder the same for all Anglo-Saxon nations. Saved their a***s in 2 World Wars, only for them to pull out of NATO and backstab us any chance they get. My grandfather fought in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and I still remember him telling us that he found the French to be the most duplicitous, self-centered people he ever encountered. Instead of NATO, what if there was some sort of Anglo-American military alliance combining… Read more »

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Westpoint

Isn’t something like that already there? Like in the five eye system. I agree on your other point: all NATO countries with some sort of naval capability should contribute to this and not back out for whatever reason.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob

The 5 Eyes arrnagement is about coordinating an dsharing intelligence. Think Westpoint wants to go further than this and have joint Task Forces etc.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  Westpoint

I be honest I personally think at some point NATO is going to fracture…after all the likely road to the next major world conflict is not via Europe but probably the western Pacific…it will spread but it’s flash point is likely the western pacific ( its the area with the most contagion..being a fault line between two super powers). I see a road in which a western pacific conflict spreads far and wide..but potentially some European powers decide to stay neutral…this would probably over-stress NATO and cause a fracture.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
1 month ago
Reply to  Westpoint

‘My grandfather fought in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and I still remember him telling us that he found the French to be the most duplicitous, self-centered people he ever encountered.’

That is no way to talk about the country that invented yours!

Jon
Jon
1 month ago

A little off topic, I read in Navy Lookout that HMS Trent is being retasked to exercises off Guyana after Christmas. I hope this is just a show of solidarity and there’ll also be some real warships in the region if they expect something to kick off.

And perhaps it’s not so off topic. I see our good friends, Iran, have been providing missile boats to Venezuela. They really are a bunch of sh*t stirrers.

Armchair Admiral
Armchair Admiral
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

There’s so much going on, and with the navy having to send ships here and there, is it not time to give the B2 Rivers a half decent radar and a 40mm Bofors? I am not condoning any more up-arming but surely we need a minimum self defence capacity on them above the 30mm? Sooner or later they will come in drone range and need at least a cwis of sorts. I understand the 30mm is quite a good weapon but it surely does not match the range and sophistication of the 40mm rounds.
Merry christmas! AA

Jon
Jon
1 month ago

The situation is degrading so quickly, what would have been a vehement “no” from me only last month is now an “I don’t know”. I still veer towards developing containerised CAMM as the upgun path for the Rivers (and other ships); however I hope that somewhere in the bowels of the MOD, someone is working on a plan to turn the Rivers into corvettes. Something we could do in a hurry if war comes. Not because it’s a good thing, but because our frigate fleet is degrading and war seems to be creeping ever closer. It isn’t here yet though,… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Jon
Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Given the shortage of frigates its tempting to upgrade a couple of batch 2 Rivers along the lines suggested in navy lookout and / or convert Echo and Enterprise to opvs but I’m sure the RN would rather struggle through in anticipation of getting the 5 x T32 they really want. Seasons greetings.

Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

You are probably right, Paul, at least right now. The RN would rather. However to retreat into cliche, we fight tonight with what we have tonight.

The first T32 (or T31 B2) will not be in service until 2031. The RN would probably even more rather have 5 extra T26s, but the first of those wouldn’t turn up until 2036. Xi has pencilled in 2027, and if we take him seriously, can we afford to fart about with rather?

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Quite. Right now we should be able to add a T23 or equivalent to the US lead Red Sea group without weakening existing commitments; and deploy a frigate to support Guyana not an OPV, even an upgraded one. None of the Navy Lookout proposals for batch 2 River upgrades included (containerised ) Sea Ceptor which is looking more and more essential. Speculating, I’d say the powers that be have decided that Echo and Enterprise will be sold or go the scrap yard and are betting that Glasgow and Venturer will in service quicker than it would take for a decent… Read more »

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Interesting conundrum, if conflict comes before regeneration of surface fleet. Either expedite production of T-26/T-31 w/ additional funding, or refurbish T-23s via increased funding. Neither option would be inexpensive. 🤔

FormerUSAF
FormerUSAF
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Interesting conundrum, if conflict comes before regeneration of surface fleet. Either expedite production of T-26/T-31 or refurbish T-23s. Neither option would be inexpensive. 🤔

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Iran are prodding the Ant hill and the West is reacting but I suspect it’s Russia doing the Strategic Chess Playing. Ukraine invaded by Russia (Backed directly or diplomatically by Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Hamas and Hezbollah). For 20 months Ukraine was holding its own and then some, due to the backing of EU, NATO and hugely by the USA. Russia backed by direct help from Iran and North Korea (indirectly by others). Then in short order. October HAMAS (Backed by IRAN and Hootie rebels), attack Israel (which is 100% backed by USA. IMHO Israel is the Achilles Heal… Read more »

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

Time for us to rearm!

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

That time was almost a decade ago..anyone with an ounce of understanding of geopolitical history could see the path..Putin and his near abroad policy and ambitions were always leading to war, china made it pretty clear a decade ago it was getting back Taiwan come what may, refused to rule out war and started the biggest navel building and up armament programme we have seen in the last 50 years….when dictatorships do that history tells us it goes only one way. simply put, the carriers should have had full air wings, the T23 already mainly replaced, all the A class… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Jonathan
Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

Looks like Trent’s arrival has prompted Venezuela to plan military excercises on land and naval exercises off their coast. They are claiming half of Guyana’s land mass and a huge area of territorial waters. Sending Trent was obviously a pre-emptive move by the UK.

John Boulton
John Boulton
1 month ago

Jonathon says: “A nice Christmas present for Putin … ” I fully agree – Iran may quite possibly be Putin’s plaything, and this may all be designed to take resources away from Ukraine. Venezuela are poking Guyana, Iran is involved in that, as are the Chinese. Watch North Korea carefully next. Putin and Mr. Kim have been chatting and who knows what they have up their sleeve? All of this points to drawing focus away from Putin’s main goal of Ukraine. And after Ukraine? Romania? Serbia? Hungary? Karelia? Finland? the Baltic states? Need I say more? Ukraine is only a… Read more »

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  John Boulton

If he follows his pattern then next on his list is Moldova. That way he controls both sides of the lower Danube, Russia has a small military force in a part of Moldova that is Russian speaking (sound familiar).
After that who knows, but his options will be limited due to the losses he has had in Ukraine.

monkey spanker
monkey spanker
1 month ago
Reply to  John Boulton

At the current rate russia will run out of population before it takes out Ukraine. Thing with rebuilding the Soviet Union is almost nobody wants to be in that Soviet Union. Some Russians would be happy as they are already under Moscow rule.
His dreams are like the U.K. saying we need the empire back let’s invade.

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago

Interesting New Year in Iran…over 100 killed by remote controlled bomb at memorial service for  Qasem Soleimani.