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So, Red Sea Pirates it is
we live in interesting times
Before anything else, it is important to remember that anything the Houthis do, they do at the behest and with the support of Iran.
As the map above shows, Yemen is, well, a mess. Old Cold warriors will see the old “North Yemen” and “South Yemen” borders because history is sticky, but we will be blessed in 2023 to have such a simple challenge.
There are quite a few topics on the Houthi of Yemen I’d like to write about, but for a change, I’m going to try some self-discipline and focus on the latest - piracy.
Yahya Sare’e, who is the spokesperson for the Yemeni armed forces, warned via social media platform X at 1400 GMT on November 19 that “Yemen reiterates the threat against Israeli vessels in the Red Sea”.
The 2002-built vessel’s last signal was at 1136 GMT on November 18, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence, with media reports there were 22 crew on board, none from Israel.
Galaxy Leader is owned by Tel Aviv-based Ray Shipping Ltd, which operates a fleet of 65 pure car and truck carriers, according to shipping databases and its website.
This is not the first time that vessels owned by Ray Shipping have been targeted while transiting the Middle East Gulf and Red Sea region.
Iran has attacked two Ray Shipping-owned vessels firing a missile at the Hyperion Ray (IMO: 9690559) on April 13, 2021, and was said to be responsible for an explosion to the Helios Ray (IMO: 9690547) on February 25 earlier that year.
How did they do it?
Two U.S. defense officials confirmed that Houthi rebels seized the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea on Sunday afternoon local time. The rebels descended on the cargo ship by rappelling from a helicopter, the officials said, confirming details first reported by NBC News. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
The ship’s seizure resembles others previously conducted by Iran, which has long armed the Houthis.
That is not a bunch of illiterate Somali fishermen in wooden boats. Nope. This is a modern, sophisticated piracy operation.
Where do the 25 crewmembers come from?
The ship’s Japanese operator, NYK Line, said the vessel had no cargo at the time of the hijacking. Its crewmembers are from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico, NYK said. … the captain and the first mate on the Galaxy Leader were Bulgarians.
So, Bulgaria and Romania are NATO allies … some of our poorest allies who really have no power projection power of their own, but allies nonetheless. We have mutual treaties with The Philippines and Japan. Mexico is our 3rd largest trading partner, neighbor, and fellow OAS member. Israel is presently engaged in an existential battle with Hamas … which is why we are here.
None of those nations whose people are prisoners have any ability to project power or to leverage the Houthi.
Just like the Iranian-backed Hamas’s barbaric use of wholesale rape, child murder and kidnapping on October 7th seemed specifically designed to force Israel to invade Gaza, so do the Iranian proxy attacks on Americans in Syria, Iraq, and the Red Sea seemed designed to bring the US into the fight. If they can’t do that, they will at least try to get Israel to divert attention and resources away from the main effort - opening a variety of ways to humiliate either the Great Satan or the Little Satan.
Don’t take the bait.
Using Houthi Yemen as a pirate base - that is simply daring anyone, but specifically the US, who values the international order to do something about it.
What to do about it? Well, depending on higher D&G I think the reasonable course of action can be from “nothing” to my preferred option; blockade.
The Houthis are not a nation. They are unlawful combatants engaged in a civil war attacking other nations' merchant ships. We have a few thousand years of precedent of how to deal with such pirates.
In our tender age, we can’t go all Julius Caesar on them, but we have all sorts of options.
We can stop coddling Iran and its proxies for a start, but that will probably have to wait until the winter and early spring of 2025, maybe.
Sal Mercogliano has a great thread over on X, but I’d like to highlight this bit;
Almost impossible to police and escort … but also one that is incredibly difficult to identify and track specific ships. It requires an extensive and well-trained reconnaissance infrastructure.
MARAD can put out announcements, things can be found in the Federal Register, and we can weakly call piracy hijacking, but can we speak as adults here? There is only one way to properly deal with this - and because of the specific circumstances outlined above, we have lots of options should the National Command Authority decide to do something.
While almost all our fellow nations lack the ability to do any wet-work at scale in this part of the world, quite a few of them would be quite comfortable in putting together an escort operation in the Red Sea … as our modern economy cannot for long accept the insurance rates or additional transport costs should the Red Sea be a zone of piracy.
Then again, if the Houthis are only going after Israeli-related shipping, I can also see the generally anti-Israeli international community simply telling such related commerce to avoid the Red Sea or you get no insurance.
There are all sorts of ways to deal with this going forward, but we are only a play or two away from threats to not just Israeli-related shipping, but to anyone who supports Israeli shipping being threatened.
However, I have a long-standing lack of tolerance to piracy on the high seas. If not aggressively countered, it always grows. Mariners can languish for years in horrible conditions and global trade becomes much less efficient. The always-tender assumptions about the rule of law on an international scale weaken further.
So, as for America, we can do nothing here … but that would be irresponsible. I don’t think a rescue attempt is feasible or advisable to any degree. What can be done is make the Houthi’s decision costly.
The PRC’s sponsored Saudi-Iran rapprochement this spring should be encouraged to die a painful death, as should the Saudi and Houthi negotiations. Nothing good can come from Iranian proxies allowed to exist at the mouth of the Red Sea.
Peace was tried, and it only brought more dangerous war. Release the Saudis and their Gulf allies. We don’t have to put a boot on the ground to make the Houthis become more concerned with their own survival than getting involved in a conflict with Israel and anyone else. Our allies will support on the margins with tons of “national caveats” and other restrictive ROE. Whatever is done would be primarily a USN show.
Of course, that would require a completely different view of Iran from the Biden Administration. I see nothing, especially coming into an election year, that will change that. He’d have to get rid of 2/3 of his national security team to change course.
So, where does that leave the USA and the international community? Somewhere between “nothing” and “mostly ineffective.”
I hope I am wrong, but at this point, I really hope the crewmembers’ national diplomatic pros can find a way to tell the Houthi, “Fine, keep the ship, but please let our people come home. They were only doing their job.”
We are a planet awash in unfinished conflicts and coddled terrorist organizations. Neither go away in time, instead they accumulate. Just pray they don’t all go malignant a the same time.
UPDATE: The Other Sal has the video and a great breakdown. Note the “Palestinian” flag under the “Yemen” flag.