Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

Iran-Backed Houthis Sink Ship, Vow To Continue Attacks

 

Lawmakers Demand Tougher Measures Against Iran

 

 

The sinking of a British cargo ship off the coast of Yemen by Iran-backed Houthis several days ago underscores the shocking inability of the international community, led by the United States, to enforce basic norms of a civilized world order in this vital shipping region.

The Rubymar was attacked on Feb. 18 by a Houthi missile but remained afloat for days, enabling the 24-person crew to be rescued by British authorities, according to the WSJ. The ship had been abandoned for 12 days after the Houthi attack, as plans were underway to tow it to a safe port but failed to materialize.

The vessel slowly gathered water until it sank with its cargo of 20,000 tons of fertilizer, creating an 18 mile oil slick which threatens marine life and may cripple regional fishing industries.

The Houthis gloated over the sinking of the ship, vowing to keep up their attacks. “Yemen will continue to sink more British ships,” a Houthi spokesman taunted Britain in an online post, cited by The Telegraph. “The UK is a rogue state that partners with America in sponsoring ongoing crimes against civilians in Gaza.”

The Houthis have been locked in a brutal civil war with Yemen’s legitimate government since 2014, when they seized control of the capital, Saana, and a lengthy strip of coastline bordering the Red Sea, including the major port of Hodiedah.

For the past 10 years of civil warfare, intent on extending their grip over the entire country, the Houthis have expanded their control to encompass over two thirds of Yemen’s 34 million people.

U.S. intelligence sources say that Tehran, with whom the Houthis—a Shiite Muslim sect—are religiously aligned, has openly supplied the movement with everything from small arms and rifles to sophisticated drones and ballistic missiles. With lavish funding from Iran over several years, the terrorist group has been vastly upgraded.

As the Red Sea has become a battleground for escalating attacks by the Houthis, regional governments appear incapable of protecting global shipping routes from deadly Houthi missiles, or even from preventing a ship with its massive cargo from slowly sinking.

Compounding the crisis, Operation Prosperity Guardian, a coalition of more than 20 nations, set up by the United States in December 2023, has done little to deter Houthi terrorists. Nor has the deployment of European Union off the coast of Yemen exerted the slightest influence.

Aligned with Iran against Israel and the West, the Houthis–whose flag proclaims “Death To Israel”—are so obsessed with the Jewish state that as soon as the news broke of the Hamas slaughter of Israelis on Oct. 7, the terror group launched a campaign of missiles and drones against Israel from 1200 miles away.

Three cruise missiles fired from Yemen on October 19 were intercepted by the US Navy. A drone attack launched on October 28 apparently went off-course and resulted in explosions in Egypt.

Since then, framing their violence as solidarity with the Palestinians, the Houthis have launched over a hundred drone and missile attacks against merchant vessels in the region. The attacks have become indiscriminate, targeting ships that have no connection to Israel, using sophisticated weaponry that experts confirm have come from Iran.

Houthi violence and aggression have impacted approximately 55 countries around the world that depend on commerce passing through the Red Sea.

 

Taking a Hit as Long as it Strikes a Blow to the West

Instead of being outraged, many regimes, such as Russia, China, Iran and Qatar seem not to mind that the Houthis attack ships with impunity. Other countries linked to Iran, Russia, and China via regional groups such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), are falling in line with this posture of indifference.

The destruction of the Rubymar seemed to evoke a shrug of indifference even from countries in the region whose economic interests are being harmed by the escalating violence, not the least of which is Yemen itself.

“The Houthis are creating an environmental hazard right in their own backyard,” Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said. They’re saying that they’re conducting these attacks against ships that are connected to Israel. These are ships that are literally bringing goods, services, aid to their own people, and they’re creating their own international problem.”

Qatar and other regimes could pressure the Houthis to halt the attacks, foreign policy experts say, but are privately applauding the blow to the West. “These countries don’t mind seeing a few ships sink if the main goal is overthrowing decades of US power and dominance in the region,” noted a Jerusalem Post an op-ed.

The violence has had a far-reaching impact, all but shutting down a main international shipping artery. Cargo vessels are forced to sail around Africa, adding thousands of miles and at least an extra week at sea.

Shipping and insurance for passage to and from Europe using these detours are skyrocketing, causing substantial losses on all segments of the supply chain. Unless they are restrained, the Houthis’ attacks will increasingly damage the global economy, experts say.

The Biden administration is facing mounting criticism for refusing to directly target Houthi leadership, preferring to focus on destroying weapons and equipment. This failed attempt at deterrence has served only to embolden the Houthis who are continuing to fortify their weapons stockpile inside Yemen, CNN reported.

“We know that the Houthis maintain a large arsenal,” Singh said on Feb. 18, hours after the Houthis hit the Rubymar with ballistic missiles. “They are very capable, they have sophisticated weapons, and that’s because they continue to get them from Iran.”

 

Broader Iranian Agenda

As Houthi missile and drone attacks began to hit targets indiscriminately in November, it became obvious that the terror organization and its paymaster, Iran, have broader regional aims in addition to attacking the Jewish state.

“The Red Sea is one of the most important routes for shipping oil… This is the entrance to the Suez Canal and the major international traffic that the Houthis are trying to block,” senior military analyst and retired General Jack Keane told Fox News.

“What’s happening here is Iran is broadcasting its strategic goal that it has pursued for 43 years; that it can dominate control over the flow of oil coming out of the Middle East,” Gen. Keane said. “The Houthis are Iran’s instrument in achieving that objective.”

This perspective was reinforced last week by Gen Tareq Saleh at Chatham House, a renowned British think tank in London. Saleh, a military commander and senior member of Yemen’s government-in-exile, told the Guardian that “the Houthi attacks had been prepared for years, evidenced by the quantity and type of missiles, as part of Iran’s longstanding desire to control the Red Sea.”

“These missiles and drones still have the original paint and Iranian markings on them,” he testified. “The crisis in the Red Sea is not about the war in Gaza and would not end with peace in Gaza,” the Yemeni official told the newspaper. “Iran has longer-term goals that go beyond Gaza.”

 

‘Axis of Resistance:’ The Iranian Proxy Armies

Iran’s campaign to eliminate Israel and oust the United States from the Middle East is orchestrated through proxy armies that attack U.S. and Israeli forces in five separate places in the Middle East, an NPR article explains, citing U.S. and Israeli officials.

Iran has trained, equipped and guided Hamas in the Israel-Gaza war. The regime supports Hezbollah in the daily rocket and missile exchange along the Israel-Lebanon border; arms the Houthis, and is also the patron of smaller militias that have attacked U.S. troops repeatedly in Iraq and Syria, mostly with drones.

Iran has “very cautiously unleashed a whole network of armed gangs that they run in the Arab world; they call it ‘the axis of resistance,'” Hussein Ibish of the Arab Gulf States Initiative in Washington told NPR.

Tehran wants “to use proxies in order to engage on various battlefields without it ever touching Iranians or without it coming close to the homeland,” Ibish added.

The notion that the Houthis would stop their attacks if Israel agreed to a ceasefire or pulled out of Gaza is wishful thinking, the foreign policy expert said, noting that most of the Houthis’ targets have no ties at all to Israel or its allies. “Gaza is useful but it’s not the engine [driving the aggression].”

 

‘Hit Iran Now. Hit them Hard.’


After three U.S. troops were killed on January 28 by an Iranian-backed militia in Jordan, congressional lawmakers began demanding that President Biden strike Iran.  The drone attack, which also injured at least 34 U.S. personnel, marks the first deaths of U.S. troops by enemy fire since Oct. 7.

“I am calling on the Biden Administration to strike targets of significance inside Iran, not only as reprisal for the killing of our forces, but as deterrence against future aggression,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement.

“The only thing the Iranian regime understands is force. Until they pay a price with their infrastructure and their personnel, the attacks on U.S. troops will continue,” he added. “Hit Iran now. Hit them hard.”

Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the most senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed Graham’s call to action. “We must respond to these repeated attacks by Iran and its proxies by striking directly against Iranian targets and its leadership. … The Biden administration’s responses thus far have only invited more attacks.”

Biden for his part offered a feeble statement that “we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing.”

The country is still awaiting the promised response that Secretary of State Blinken assured the country will be “multileveled, come in stages, and be sustained over time.”

An op-ed in The Hill slammed “President Biden’s tough-talk, no-action strategy” which the authors say “has earned him no respect from Iran.”

The article noted that Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei threatened that ‘if it strikes Iranian soil directly, Tehran will itself hit back at American assets in the Middle East.” That was enough to make the Biden administration cave.

Following the ayatollah’s threat, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters, “We are not seeking a conflict with the regime in the military way.”

 

‘Biden Escalation Paralysis’

“Iran seems to be dictating the rules, and Biden’s White House meekly obeying,” the op-ed said. “The administration’s fear of sparking a “wider war in the Middle East” has hurt CENTCOM’s ability to respond to the 160-plus attacks that Iranian proxies have launched against U.S. bases. Biden’s escalation paralysis places American service members at risk.”

The solution lies in the Biden administration’s ability to leverage the instruments of national power, the article argues. “The military arm must be the hammer that delivers the message that attacking U.S. bases is an act of war and will not be tolerated.”

Asked by Fox News anchor John Roberts which Iranian targets could be hit without causing escalation, former US. Central Command spokesman Joe Buccino pointed to “IRGC bases in the south that are largely empty,” “Iranian vessels, Iranian ships in the Arabian Gulf,” and “Iranian oil refineries.”

“Economically, the U.S. should freeze Iranian assets, shut down Iran’s ability to refine oil and sell it on the open market, and eliminate sanction waivers and ransom payments,” the authors continue. “Deny the regime the funds it needs to wage war.”

Bottom line, “Biden’s ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy toward Iran is getting Americans killed and wounded, The Hill op-ed concludes. “How many transfer of troop coffins at Dover Air Force Base will Biden have to attend before he understands that Iran is already at war with the U.S. and has been for some time?”

 

Biden Administration Refuses to List Houthis as Foreign Terror Organization

In January 2021, President Trump listed the Houthis as a Foreign Terror Organization, (FTO), ensuring that they were cut off from their sponsors and subject to sanctions and penalties.

Immediately after President Biden came to office, he reversed this decision. Three years after this reversal, the Biden Administration, under mounting pressure, re-designated the Houthis as terrorists but on a lesser level than an FTO.

President Biden listed them as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” – “a weak designation that implements limited sanctions, as opposed to more robust penalties imposed on a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York explained in a statement.

“Biden’s decision to choose a weaker designation is the most recent example of the Biden Administration’s appeasement of Iran,” she noted. “American service members continue to face sustained attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi militants. Yet, Joe Biden continues to pander to Tehran, announcing half-measure sanctions against the Houthis.”

“By [President Biden] refusing to return to a FTO designation,” Rep. Stefanik explained, “support for the Houthis is not criminalized, it does not force banks to seize Houthi assets, and allows Houthis to still freely travel to the United States.”

In a letter addressed to President Joe Biden on Feb. 15, a bipartisan group of 17 members of Congress had urged the White House to re-designate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Their recommendations were rebuffed.

 

*****

Strength Begets Peace, Weakness Begets Chaos 

Writing for The Center for Individual Freedom in January, vice president of the organization’s legal and public affairs Timothy Lee compared two pivotal world events and their repercussions.

“Four years ago this week, U.S. forces killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack ordered by president Donald Trump,” he recalled. “This week, in stark contrast, a global shipping giant announced that it could no longer traverse the Red Sea due to ongoing missile attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.”

The two events sharply illustrate the difference between former President Trump and current president Joe Biden, “and the price the world pays for the latter’s weakness,” the writer said.  “Strength begets peace, weakness begets chaos.”

The author went on to recall the “hand-wringing” from establishment voices in the United States over the January 2020 killing of General Soleimani, commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Quds, a murderous force who menaced the United States and Israel through his proxy armies in other countries.

Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis in Yemen, and militias in Iraq and Syria all carried out the bidding of Commander Soleimani, who was also chief deputy of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The arch terrorist was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and the lifelong injuries of thousands more, the author noted.

Foreign policy expert Lee went on to describe how candidate Joe Biden put on display “for Americans and the world, the weakness that would characterize his future administration,” as he slammed Trump’s boldness and anticipated it would spark chaos for the U.S. and its allies.

 

A Stick of Dynamite Into a Tinderbox?

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” then candidate Biden fumed.  “He owes the American people an explanation of the strategy to keep our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests safe!”

Yet the killing of Soleimani, far from sparking chaos, proved crucial and redemptive in several ways, the author wrote. It prevented imminent attacks in the works and deterred further aggression against American interests. It reinforced U.S. credibility by demonstrating the administration’s will “to take decisive action against hostile actors; and to address threats to our national security proactively.”

Far from triggering explosive retaliation as Biden predicted, the assassination of Soleimani took the wind out of Iran’s sails. For as long as Trump was in office, Iranian harassment of the United States ceased.

Upon entering the White House in 2021, President Biden swiftly reversed his predecessor’s policy in favor of conciliation and appeasement toward Iran. First, he lowered sanctions against Teheran significantly. Biden also restarted “the farcical Iranian nuclear negotiations,” which brought about the jarring recent announcement that its enrichment of uranium has approached weapons-grade levels.

In another epic U.S. foreign policy defeat, Iran has also been emboldened to the point of helping Hamas plan the October 7 attack against Israel and greenlighting it, author Lee argues. “Since that attack, Iran’s Houthi rebel proxies consider Biden such a non-threat that they have managed to shut down shipping in the critical Red Sea corridor.”

Biden’s failure to internalize the lesson that “demonstrating strength brings peace and timidity brings chaos,” the author suggests, might well emerge as the paramount issue for Americans in the upcoming November elections.

 

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