With the IDF continuing to blast Gaza into bloodied rubble, Houthi militants (who control the West of Yemen) have retaliated by launching missiles at Israel and targeting commercial shipping in the Red Sea. In response, a coalition of 10 countries, led by the US, have pledged to use their naval might to protect vessels along this key trade route. We see how swiftly the ‘international community’ takes action when capitalist profits and proxies are threatened, and how little Palestinian lives factor into their cynical calculations.
The Iranian-aligned Houthis are among the only groups to take military action against Israel in response to its bombardment of Gaza. They began by launching missiles at Israeli cities, which were largely intercepted. They then moved on to targeting ships in the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a 20-mile wide stretch of the Red Sea between Djibouti and Yemen, with drones, missiles and boarding parties.
The Houthis announced they would attack any ships passing through the strait linked to Israel, or destined for Israeli ports. While so far there have been no fatalities, the Galaxy Leader tanker (owned by British company Ray shipping, in turn co-owned by Israeli businessman Rami Ungar, and chartered by Japanese company Nippon Yūsen) was hijacked on 19 November. Images have appeared on social media of Houthi militiamen touring the vessel and taking selfies with their prize.
To the north of the Red Sea is the Gulf of Suez, opening into the Suez Canal: one of the world’s most significant waterways, and a key route by which Israel receives goods by sea, including weapons and components for its military. So far, half of shipping routes to Israel through the Red Sea have been halted.
With Houthis choking off access to the Gulf of Suez, major shipping companies such as the Danish Maersk, British BP, Hong Kong’s OOCL, German Hapag-Lloyd and Italian-Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Co., have announced they will either suspend operations or reroute around the Cape of Good Hope. This journey takes at least 10 days longer than going via the Suez Canal, which will push up the cost of goods. These aforementioned companies "control around half of the global container shipping market," per ABN Amro analyst Albert Jan Swart in Reuters.
‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’
In response to the attacks, the US has assembled a ‘coalition of the willing’ to defend commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Dubbed ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’, participants include Britain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain. US, British and French warships have already shot down Houthi missiles and drones targeting commercial vessels.
Announcing the new joint operation, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said:
“The recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen threatens the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners, and violates international law… Operation Prosperity Guardian is bringing together multiple countries… with the goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity.”
We really must pause here. Austin has the gall to talk about violation of international law, while Israel, the main ally of US imperialism in the Middle East, is raining down hellfire on innocent men, women and children in Gaza. While it besieges and starves the population in a campaign of collective punishment. While it deploys white phosphorus rounds, and deliberately targets civilian homes and infrastructure.
So far, upwards of 20,000 Gazan civilians have been butchered by the IDF. Let alone the hundreds of Palestinians murdered in the West Bank over the past several weeks, with armed settler thugs and soldiers intensifying their attacks on civilians. We remind our readers that, so far, nobody has been killed as a result of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, which began in response to Israel’s carnival of carnage in Gaza.
Indeed, Israel’s onslaught has met with absolutely no consequences from the so-called international community. The country has faced no sanctions, no military reprisals, and only the most muted criticism. By contrast, the democratic regimes of the so-called free world continue to fund and arm Israel, and act swiftly to ensure that its economy and military continue to function, while it perpetuates mass murder and ethnic cleansing against defenceless Palestinians.
We must also draw attention to the shameless hypocrisy of the Arab regimes in the region. While the likes of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have not joined the US-led naval coalition to repel Houthi attacks, neither have these regimes – which occasionally shed crocodile tears for the suffering of ‘fellow Muslims’ in Gaza – lifted a finger to help the Palestinians. On the contrary, Egypt and Jordan have served as Israel’s de facto border guards, keeping Palestinian refugees hemmed into the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia, for its part (which has been at war with the Houthis for years) assisted in shooting down Houthi missiles in the Red Sea.
In the midst of ‘normalisation’ talks this year, plans were allegedly afoot to establish a land bridge linking Israel with Saudi and the UAE via Jordan. While the House of Saud has been forced to break off these negotiations after 7 October, and the Kingdom of Jordan flatly denies any such land bridge is in the works, it is clear that these pious Islamic governments answer to Mammon over any other authority.
The obedient lapdogs of Bahrain have actually joined Operation Prosperity Guardian! The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, has maintained trade links with Israel following the so-called Abraham Accords of 2020, despite the war on Gaza. "We don't mix the economy and trade with politics," Thani al-Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, told reporters in Dubai. Or to put it differently: “if the money is good, Israel can do what it likes.” Similarly, Turkey is still shipping oil to Israel.
The Houthis have pledged to continue their operations in the Red Sea, despite the US-led joint operation. “Our position will not change in the direction of the Palestinian issue, whether a naval alliance is established or not,” Houthi official Mohammed Abdulsalam told Reuters. "Our position in support of Palestine and the Gaza Strip will remain until the end of the siege, the entry of food and medicine, and our support for the oppressed Palestinian people will remain continuous."
This conflict, which is ultimately part of an ongoing proxy war between Iran and the west, has big implications for the world economy. The Suez Canal is a vital artery of world trade. We recall how the Ever Given tanker becoming jammed in the Suez Canal wreaked havoc with shipping and supply lines in 2021. Approximately 12 percent of global trade and 30 percent of global container traffic traverse the canal, worth $1tn USD per year, including about 10 percent of the world’s oil and liquified natural gas, and 15 percent of its grain.
At the same time, other important routes such as the Panama Canal face a huge backlog of ships due to low water levels, resulting from climate change. This new bottleneck could not have come at a worse time from the perspective of the world economy. It threatens to reignite the inflationary crisis the capitalists have been desperately seeking to bring under control, since it was driven into overdrive by the war in Ukraine. In that conflict, and the one in Gaza, the bloodstained hands of Western imperialism set things in motion, leaving ordinary people to face the consequences.
The above considerations explain the swift action by the US to prevent further Houthi attacks, coupled with the need to support its main ally in the region. The US is using its military and diplomatic clout to prevent anyone from interfering with Israel’s operation in Gaza, giving the IDF a free hand to massacre the Palestinians.
President Joe Biden is apparently contemplating direct attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen: a country that has already been besieged by western ally Saudi Arabia for nine years, resulting in one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory – with hundreds of thousands killed by airstrikes, disease and starvation.
Risk of escalation
The situation is delicate. Already, there is a danger of the conflict in Gaza spilling out into a wider war. There have been skirmishes and exchanges of missiles between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, for instance. If any ships are sunk or sailors killed by the Houthis in the Red Sea, or if the US strikes Yemen, the situation could spiral out of control. This will create enormous instability and could even inflame a new revolutionary movement like that in 2011.
Neither the western imperialists nor the main Arab regimes in the region have any appetite for a wider conflict. The likes of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (which is in the middle of fragile peace negotiations with the Houthis) also rake in billions via the Suez Canal. This puts their despotic rulers in a very awkward position, given the enormous anger and solidarity for Palestine from their populations. At the moment, the Houthis are seen as the only force doing anything to assist the Palestinians, who have been otherwise abandoned to their fate.
The communists condemn all of the cynical manoeuvring of the imperialists, and the degenerate, dictatorial capitalist regimes in the region. In the pursuit of their narrow interests, they are provoking endless chaos and conflict that spell misery for the masses of the Middle East and throughout the world.
This nightmare will never end until the workers and poor of the world put a stop to a system that guarantees war and crisis, as the capitalist parasites scrabble to preserve their profits and defend their spheres of influence, trampling on the bones of countless innocents.