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As Yemen’s Houthis continue to target vessels in the Red Sea, and claimed on Wednesday to have launched missiles directly at Israel, Saudi Arabia is calling on the U.S. to show restraint as U.S. naval forces respond to Houthi attacks. On Wednesday, the Houthis launched “several” ballistic missiles at Israeli military posts in the city of Eilat, Reuters reports, citing a Houthi spokesperson. That statement followed the U.S. Navy’s shooting down of a Houthi drone earlier in the day.
Analysts seem to be of the opinion that the Saudis are calling for restraint in order to avoid further escalation as this vital oil shipping route comes under attack.
The calls for restraint follow an incident on Sunday in which three commercial ships were attacked by Houthis in international waters. The Houthis claimed the vessels had connections to Israel, which the Israelis have denied. The U.S. Navy shot down three Houthi drones when the vessels came under attack.
Vaguely, the Pentagon has simply said if it decides to take more direct action against the Houthis, it will be “at a time and place” of its own choosing, apparently referring to the Saudi call for restraint.
The Houthis pose a significant threat to commercial shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a sea route choke point between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. Most exports of petroleum and natural gas from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal or the SUMED Pipeline pass through both the Bab el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz. With Israel’s war on Gaza raging, the Saudis are concerned with maintaining several balances, including the fragile semi-peace in Yemen that has resulted from its restoration of diplomatic ties with long-time arch-rival Iran, who has backed the Houthis, which have a sizable weapons arsenal. That arsenal was used in 2019 to attack Saudi Aramco oil facilities to devastating (if short-lived) impact on oil markets.
Reuters has cited “senior sources in the Iran-aligned camp” as saying that the Houthis were using Red Sea attacks to pressure the U.S. to push Israel to cease its offensive on Gaza.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com