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Don’t bomb the Houthis

Retaliatory strikes would also increase the likelihood that the Israel-Hamas war will expand across the region and that the civil war in Yemen will resume. Careful diplomacy can stop the attacks in the Red Sea. Da Foreign Affairs Magazine.

The conflict between the United States and the Houthis in the Red Sea is steadily escalating. On December 31, Houthi small boats attempted to attack a commercial vessel; after U.S. naval helicopters responded to the attack, the Houthis—a rebel group that controls territory inhabited by 80 percent of Yemen’s population—fired on them. U.S. forces returned fire, sinking three Houthi boats and killing ten crew members. Then on January 9, the Houthis launched one of their largest attacks in the Red Sea to date including 18 drones, two antiship cruise missiles, and one antiship ballistic missile, which were intercepted by U.S. and British forces.

This engagement represented just the latest in a series of attacks in the Red Sea. Since mid-November, the Houthis have launched more than 20 attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, a strategically critical strait that is transited by 15 percent of global trade. Characterizing their attacks as a response to the Israel-Hamas war, they have also fired missiles and drones toward southern Israel. The Red Sea attacks have forced some shipping companies to temporarily suspend sailing through the Suez Canal, routing instead around the Horn of Africa, a change that adds about ten days to their journey. The attacks have not yet led to a significant disruption in global trade, but over the long term, the rising shipping costs they provoke are likely to increase oil prices and the cost of consumer goods worldwide.

In response, the United States has mobilized international partners, launching in mid-December a multinational initiative aimed at protecting commercial vessels in the Red Sea. And on January 3, these partners issued a joint statement that U.S. officials indicated should serve as a final warning to the Houthis before Washington took more drastic action. U.S. officials are now considering military attacks on Houthi targets.

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