Failure to Deter Houthi Attacks Endangers Global Shipping

On December 3, the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen launched projectile attacks in the Red Sea against three commercial vessels—the M/V Unity Explorer, the M/V Number 9, and the M/V Sophie II. Iran effectively now sits astride and can harass commercial traffic through two economically vital waterways—the Strait of Hormuz in the Arabian Gulf and Bab el-Mandeb in the Red Sea. The effects of the Houthis’ attacks are already having an economic impact. Insurance costs for commercial shipping through the Red Sea have nearly tripled while some ships have chosen to avoid the region altogether by taking the longer and more costly route around Africa.

The United States has at least responded with force to some Iran-backed attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, though not effectively or frequently enough to deter further attacks. In the Red Sea, however, there has not even been a U.S. attempt to deter or target the origin of the Houthi attacks. Absent such U.S. action, the Iranian regime and the Houthis will continue their aggression, with global economic impacts. To deter further Houthi and other Iran-backed attacks, the United States should employ consistent and strong military force against Iran-linked targets, specifically fighters, that attack U.S. personnel, interests, and partners, as well as global ship-ping, and the Biden administration should redesignate the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).