Yemen’s Houthi rebel group has seized a strategic port on the Red Sea, threatening Saudi and Egyptian shipping. As the Financial Times reports:
Houthi militants are expanding their presence into western Yemen around a vital maritime corridor that controls access to the Red Sea, a potential threat for some of the 8 per cent of global trade that runs through the Suez Canal.The Bab al-Mandab strait separates the Arabian Peninsula from east Africa and links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Most ships using the waterway have come from, or are going to, Egypt’s Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean and which contributes about $5bn a year to the Egyptian economy.About 4 per cent of the global oil supply, much of it from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, passes through the strait, which is 29km wide at its narrowest point.
The concern here is that the Shi’a Houthis, who essentially control Yemen’s capital and occupy an incredibly strong political position, would act as an Iranian puppet and threaten Egyptian and Saudi shipping. This would give Iran strategic control over both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, a clearly unacceptable outcome for the Sunni bloc of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.Despite the seizure of some illegal Egyptian fishing boats in the strait, there’s no indication that the Houthis plan to make such a move any time soon. But in the meantime a port to supply the Houthis with weapons will help them consolidate their already strong position. Despite massive funding for the central government by both Saudi Arabia and the United States, the strength of the Houthis, and by extension Iran, continues to grow, with no signs of slowing.