Will the clash with the Houthi rebels lead to global conflict?

Would the US and the UK be prepared to put boots on the ground in Yemen (as Boris Johnson proposed)? Will a prolonged air campaign be enough to paralyse the Iran-backed Houthis? There are many difficult questions left to answer over the Middle East’s latest hotspot, warns Kim Sengupta

Tuesday 16 January 2024 07:31 GMT
Rishi Sunak says the action taken was ‘limited, necessary and proportionate ... in self-defence’
Rishi Sunak says the action taken was ‘limited, necessary and proportionate ... in self-defence’ (Reuters)

The airstrikes by the US and the UK came after repeated warnings to the Houthis that their attacks on Red Sea shipping would have severe consequences. These had no effect, and 27 vessels have been targeted by the militia in the last two months.

As a result, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has become an area of extreme hazard. Global trade declined by 1.3 per cent from November to December. More than 30 per cent of the cargo was diverted around the South African coast, with prices soaring as a result. Freight costs from Asia to northern Europe and North America have more than doubled.

The Houthis appeared to be acting with impunity despite the flotilla of Western warships present in the Gulf. The US continued to forgo launching military strikes over worries that it would lead to the conflict in the Middle East spreading while intensive diplomatic efforts were under way to end the war in Gaza. There were also concerns that an attack would fracture the fragile truce in Yemen – a truce that has been in place since a Saudi-led coalition ended the campaign it was conducting there.

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