The U.S. administration is currently contemplating potential responses to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, following a series of assaults on commercial maritime traffic in the Red Sea over the past month. While military strategies have been proposed, the Biden administration has so far only responded by intercepting incoming drones and missiles. There is a prevailing apprehension among U.S. officials and their allies about the possibility of escalating tensions with Iran, which backs the Houthi faction and has military proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, along with the capacity to disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Navy has strategically positioned the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Gulf of Aden, and an additional three destroyers – USS Laboon, Delbert D. Black, and The Sullivans – have been deployed to the Mediterranean. The USS Gerald R. Ford’s deployment has been extended for the third time to maintain a presence near Israel.
Since November 20, Houthi forces have been disrupting maritime traffic, beginning with the hijacking of the vehicle carrier Galaxy Leader in response to Israeli activities in Gaza. Despite these actions and subsequent drone attacks, both the U.S. administration and the shipping industry have continued to utilize the Suez Canal and Red Sea with minimal alterations.
However, recent developments have altered the situation. Four shipping companies have decided to avoid the Red Sea, opting for the lengthier route around Africa, which adds approximately 1,900 nautical miles to a typical Asia-Northern Europe journey. The military landscape has also shifted, with U.S. CENTCOM reporting that the destroyer USS Carney intercepted a total of 14 drones in a single morning. These unmanned aircraft were assessed as one-way attack drones and were neutralized without causing any damage to vessels in the vicinity. This is a significant increase from previous incidents, which typically involved the interception of individual drones or small groups targeting specific ships.
In addition to the U.S., France reported earlier in the week that one of its ships had also intercepted drones. Over the weekend, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the HMS Diamond had neutralized a suspected attack drone targeting merchant vessels in the Red Sea. The HMS Diamond had recently arrived in the region after being hastily redeployed from the UK.
The U.S. Department of Defense has announced that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is scheduled to meet with the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. The agenda of the meeting is to deliberate on forming multilateral alliances to counteract the escalating threat posed by the Houthi rebels. An official statement indicated that discussions would be held within a multinational context, focusing on the ongoing efforts, especially in response to the intensifying Houthi hostilities in the Red Sea.
The U.S. currently spearheads a multilateral coalition, the Combined Maritime Forces, aimed at maintaining maritime security in the Middle East. However, the engagement from its regional members in this specific mission has been somewhat lackluster, despite numerous attacks.