Looming Security Crisis in Red Sea

Fri Feb 23 2024
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Sikandar Noorani

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Security situation evolving in Red Sea amid numerous attacks on cargo ships must not be taken lightly as ordinary incidences. Ring of attacks on various trade ships claimed by Houthis are gradually transforming in a wider conflict. Geo-political and economic importance of Red Sea is evident from the fact that maritime trade and transport activities between Asia, Europe and Africa are largely dependent on this passageway. In the longer run, insecurity of global shipping activities in this important sea lane might lead to multi-dimensional consequences beyond the regional sphere. Certainly, any unresolved conflict in Red Sea has vast potential to damage the local, regional and global economies. It is assessed that more than 15% of trade specific global shipping takes place through this sea route.

Recent chain of Houthi strikes on various ships started from November last year. Global concerns on these attacks are increasing due to detrimental effects on maritime transport, shipping costs and supply chains. It is rightly felt that present security threats in Red Sea, if left unaddressed, might damage the economies of the states situated on eastern and western coastline of the Red Sea. Besides hurting the regional players, recurring Houthi strikes on commercial ships have triggered security concerns among European countries due to obviously embedded damaging effects on interlinked cycles of trade, shipping and transportation. European quarters are also analyzing these strikes as an extension of Gaza crisis after Iranian backed Houthis had underscored attack episodes as sign of solidarity with Palestinians. Damages to the attacked cargo ships are real worry for the affected trading parties. Recently, Houthis had claimed downing of US drone MQ-9 which was a first of its kind occurrence in Red Sea region.

OIC, Gaza, Red Sea, Houthi, Gulf of Aden, Israeli, European Union, Security,

Compelled by the precarious situation, US and UK have launched security operations in the endangered maritime zones of Red Sea. In order to ensure the security of commuting vessels and keep the crucial route open, European Union has also affirmed the operational support to US led security operations last month. Security of Red Sea has been a historic concern and reckoned as a shared responsibility through a joint security mechanism called ‘Jeddah Pact’. This pact was signed by Egypt and Yemen in 1956. Later in 2020, the Council of Arab and African Border States of Red Sea and Gulf of Aden was established with its Headquarters in Jeddah.

Importance of these regional security alliances have increased more than ever under prevailing turbulent situation of the Middle East region. Crisis triggered in Middle East with inhuman Israeli atrocities against Palestinians can expand further with more damages for the locals without hurting the real culprit Israel. Unwise strikes by Houthis on international and regional cargos in Red Sea have multiple serious consequences probably yet not visualized by the trigger-happy quarters involved in repeated manifestation. Red Sea cannot be kept devoid of international shipping activities for the sake of local economies. Uninterrupted flow of vessels through Red Sea trade routes provides an opportunity to seek the solution of Palestinian issue by engaging with the global players. Disruption of shipping activities in Red Sea with violent strikes in silo, seems apparently a misdirected idea with no end-to-end thought process involved. It can neither fetch any relief for the crushed-up Palestinians and nor compel the backers of Israel to alter the strategy. At best, such unwise strikes can only hinder the shipping activities at a limited scale with no durable effects. Consequently, global powers can opt to respond with wild force in Red Sea region to restore the hindered shipping as evident from few strikes from US and UK. Maintaining peace in Red Sea is a shared responsibility of all the coastal states.

Unity among the members of the Council of Arab and African Border States of Red Sea and Gulf of Aden is essential to tackle the peace challenge in Middle East before it turns out of control. On one hand, all stakeholders including OIC members have to seek the support of saner members of international community to stop the Israeli atrocities in Gaza. On other hand, stakeholders from Red Sea belt have to be extra vigilant and proactive to keep the region peaceful. Finding the solution of Gaza genocide in Red Sea with intermittent strikes on shipping vessels seems an ill-conceived misstep destined to endanger the stability of whole region. In order to keep the focus laid on plight of Gaza, all efforts should be directed to proceed ahead for a just solution through consensus-based strategy. Houthi strikes are in a way provoking the global powers for counterstrikes, which by all means, would be more disastrous for the regional security.

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