US-led airstrikes on Houthis can't stop Red Sea crisis 'as root cause in Gaza remained unsolved'
Friction between US, Houthis to become long-term conflict with low intensity: experts
Published: Feb 04, 2024 09:33 PM Updated: Feb 04, 2024 09:46 PM
 A ship transits the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea on January 10, 2024 in Ismailia, Egypt. Photo:VCG

A ship transits the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea on January 10, 2024 in Ismailia, Egypt. Photo:VCG

The US and its ally the UK have launched a series of airstrikes against dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, however, the armed group in Yemen who attacked Israel-linked ships that sail through the Red Sea claimed on Sunday that it has not been deterred and vowed to respond. Analysts said the military strikes will only bring more conflicts to the region and before the end of the Gaza crisis, it's unlikely there will be an end to the Red Sea crisis. 

Apart from striking Yemen, the US has also attacked Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq after its military base in Jordan was reportedly attacked by drones and caused the deaths of three US soldiers. The escalating military conflicts in the Middle East will bring new challenge to the fragile global economic recovery, especially to those economies that have suffered from serious inflation and heavily rely on energy supplies from the Middle East via the Red Sea, said analysts.

More strikes and bloodshed

According to Reuters on Sunday, the US-led airstrikes have attacked 36 Houthi targets in Yemen, including weapons storage facilities, missile systems, launchers and other capabilities the Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping, the Pentagon said.

"This collective action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. 

But Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea later said the US strikes "will not pass without a response and consequences." Sarea suggested in a statement on social media that the group's intervention in the Red Sea would continue, Reuters reported.

"These attacks will not deter us from our ethical, religious and humanitarian stance in support of the resilient Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip," Sarea said.

Wang Jin, an associate professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at Northwest University, told the Global Times on Sunday that "the conflict between the US and Houthis will become a long-term conflict with low intensity."

Houthis didn't launch an all-out attack against US naval vessels, and the US airstrikes only target military facilities rather than targeting leadership of the Yemen armed group, so the two sides are all being restrained and show no intention to escalate the crisis, Wang noted.

The US-led strikes in Yemen are running parallel to an unfolding US campaign of military retaliation over the killing of three American soldiers in a drone strike by Iran-backed militants on an outpost in Jordan, Reuters reported.

On Friday, the US carried out the first wave of that retaliation, striking in Iraq and Syria against more than 85 targets that the US believed have connection with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40 people.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, say their attacks are "in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza." But the US and its allies characterize them as "indiscriminate and a menace to global trade," Reuters reported.

Liu Zhongmin, a professor at the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Sunday that "before an end of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the Red Sea crisis is unlikely to be ended merely by US-led military operation. With the extension of the conflict in Gaza, its spillover effects in the Red Sea, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other areas in the Middle East will continue as well."

The confrontation between the US, Israel on one side and Iran on the other is intensifying, but the situation is still under control as both Washington and Tehran don't want to see escalation, so in the future, the Middle East will see more small conflicts but no war between major regional powers, Liu noted.

US problematic approaches

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank from Sunday through Thursday, according to a statement released Friday by the State Department.

The tour will mark Blinken's fifth trip to the region since the latest round of Palestine-Israel conflict started on October 7, 2023, and this is a part of his ongoing effort to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and work toward a humanitarian pause that would allow more aid to reach civilians in Gaza, the Voice of America reported.

A large part of the diplomatic mission will be to push a proposal that calls for pauses in fighting in exchange for the release of hostages. On Friday, a senior Hamas official said that they will respond "very soon" to a proposal negotiated by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators in Paris earlier this week and approved by Israel.

However, Chinese analysts said the "pause" will never fundamentally solve the problem, as the "pause" means the parties in conflict have not yet realized their final goal, and the conflict will start again. While seeking "pause" by diplomatic approach, unfortunately, Washington has blocked many attempts by other members in the UN Security Council that try to pass a resolution for a cease-fire. Therefore, the spillover effect in other regions, like the Red Sea, will also continue, and the current situation in Gaza is not optimistic at all.

Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Sunday that at least two children were killed in Israeli attack on kindergarten in Rafah, southern Gaza. Houthi official Mohammed al-Bukhaiti said that the group's attacks in the Red Sea will continue until Israel ends its assault on Gaza, amid Israeli air raids on Khan Younis and Rafah, Al-Jazeera reported on Sunday.

Experts said US' failed handling of the Red Sea crisis and the Gaza crisis could lead to a global economic crisis. The countries who heavily rely on energy supplies from the Middle East via the Red Sea, such as EU members, who are also suffering from serious inflation, could be severely affected. The extension of the Red Sea crisis will add more pressure to their fragile economic recovery, they noted.