Another ‘red line’? Biden credibility on the line after Houthis launch fresh Red Sea attack | WASHINGTON TIMES

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Another ‘red line’? Biden credibility on the line after Houthis launch fresh Red Sea attack | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted by Ben Wolfgang for The Washington Times – Wednesday, January 10, 2024.


Analysts warn failure to respond to shipping attacks would undermine deterrence

The Biden administration and its allies have reached a moment of truth in their slow-burning battle of wills with Yemen‘s Houthi rebels, military and national security analysts warned Wednesday, as the Biden administration faces growing pressure to counter the Iran-backed group’s assault on global shipping in the Red Sea directly or risk losing credibility in the Middle East.

A massive drone and missile assault launched by the Houthis late Tuesday night, targeting commercial ships traveling through the vital waterway, was the latest sign that the rebel outfit is paying little heed to a “final warning” issued by the U.S. and other nations last week. The barrage Tuesday night marked the 26th Houthi attack on Red Sea shipping lanes over just the past two months, a steady assault that began in the aftermath of Hamas’ October terrorist attack on Israel. 

The Houthis claim their assaults are designed to degrade Israel’s military capabilities and slow its war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. But the attacks increasingly are targeting ships that seemingly have no connection to the Gaza war.

The Houthi barrages have damaged commercial ships, resulted in direct clashes with U.S. troops in the region, and forced oil tankers and commercial vessels to redirect away from the increasingly dangerous Red Sea. The U.S. and its partners last week threatened to hit Houthi positions in Yemen if the attacks continued. 

Specialists say the pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to make good on that threat.

“Many in the region are wondering whether the U.S. threat against the Houthis will go down in history as similar to the Obama administration’s threats and line drawn in the sand over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war, which ultimately Syria did cross without a significant response,” said Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official. “This war has thus far provided the U.S. government and its military the opportunity to strengthen its image in the region, but this is a testing moment for that image. Will the U.S. respond or maintain its defensive stance and thus suffer the loss of the image boost it has thus far gained?”

President Obama in 2012 infamously declared that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime constituted a “red line” that would spark a direct U.S. military response. A year later, Mr. Assad was again accused of using chemical weapons against his enemies, but the U.S. did not strike. The Obama administration later cut a deal in which Syria would turn over all of its chemical weapons to Russia, though by virtually all accounts, Assad retained some chemical weapons capability.

The situation in the Red Sea today is far different than the circumstances in Syria more than a decade ago. But analysts say the U.S. faces a similarly important test, one that could impact its credibility for years to come. 

Tuesday night’s attack by Houthi forces was one of the most aggressive so far, officials said, though no ships were damaged. In the assault, U.S. Central Command said that “Iranian-backed Houthis launched a complex attack of Iranian designed one-way attack [drones], anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the Southern Red Sea, towards international shipping lanes where dozens of merchant vessels were transiting.”

The drones and missiles were shot down by U.S. and British military forces in the region. In past attacks, Houthi drones have struck commercial vessels. In another instance, the U.S. Navy engaged in a firefight with Houthi rebels aboard small boats in the Red Sea, resulting in the death of some 10 Houthi attackers. And just last week, a drone boat packed with explosives detonated within just of U.S. warships and commercial vessels off the coast of Yemen on Thursday — just hours after the international “final warning.”

The Pentagon reportedly has a target list of Houthi positions inside Yemen that could be struck quickly. Administration officials so far have been tight-lipped about the specifics of such operations, though Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday reiterated that the Houthis will soon face consequences.

“I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that might happen. All I can tell you is, again, we’ve made clear, we’ve been clear with more than 20 other countries that if this continues as it did yesterday, there will be consequences,” he told reporters while traveling in Bahrain. “And I’m going to leave it at that.”

Analysts say it’s clear that the U.S. clearly has the military assets in the region to ward off Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. But at this point, U.S. military strength and rhetorical warnings don’t seem to be enough.

“The good news is that the United States and United Kingdom defeated this major, complex attack by the Iran-backed Houthis. The bad news is that the Houthis and their patrons in Iran are not backing down and are clearly unimpressed by warnings from Washington,” said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.


Another ‘red line’? Biden credibility on the line after Houthis launch fresh Red Sea attack | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted by Ben Wolfgang for The Washington Times – Wednesday, January 10, 2024.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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