December 15, 2023 | Flash Brief

Houthi Attacks in Red Sea Continue Ahead of Maritime Task Force Announcement

December 15, 2023 | Flash Brief

Houthi Attacks in Red Sea Continue Ahead of Maritime Task Force Announcement

Latest Developments

The Iran-backed Houthis launched missile attacks on two more cargo ships in the Red Sea on December 15 ahead of an expected announcement that an international maritime task force will expand its operations to the Red Sea. Currently, the U.S.-led Combined Task Force 153 (CTF-153) patrols the Red Sea and could be bolstered to address the Houthi threat. On December 14, the Houthis threatened to target U.S. and other naval assets if such a task force is deployed and also claimed they might try to shut down the Bab el-Mandeb strait at the southern end of the Red Sea — a key chokepoint for global maritime shipping.

Despite repeated Houthi drone and missile attacks, the United States has not responded with military force in Yemen, nor has the Biden administration moved to re-list the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. Israel’s national security advisor last week suggested Jerusalem might take military action against the Houthis in the absence of international action.

Expert Analysis

“It is not surprising that the Houthis and their patrons in Tehran are not happy about multilateral efforts to protect international shipping. Predators always prefer to conduct their attacks without consequences, keeping their prey weak and divided.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The Houthis are owned and controlled by Iran, so let’s be clear-eyed that simply passing messages isn’t going to solve the problem. At a minimum, the Houthis should go back on the foreign terrorist organization list. Expanded naval patrols are important, but a direct response in Yemen and accountability for Tehran will be needed to reduce the threat.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Biden Administration Seeks to New Task Force in Red Sea

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on December 4 that the United States has spoken to its allies about setting up a naval task force to guard commercial vessels as they travel through the Red Sea. The announcement came one day after the guided-missile destroyer USS Carney shot down three Houthi drones in the Red Sea after responding to distress calls from a trio of commercial vessels struck by anti-ship ballistic missiles launched from Houthi-controlled territory. Earlier this month, Sullivan blamed Iran — which arms and supports the Houthis — for the uptick in attacks. “The weapons are being supplied by Iran,” he said. “Iran, we believe, is the ultimate party responsible for this.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said on December 14 that the United States wanted to expand an already existing multi-national coalition to address the threat. While Lenderking did not elaborate, he is likely referring to CTF-153, which focuses on “international maritime security and capacity building efforts in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden.” Established in 2022, the task force already includes 15 member nations. Egypt led the task force for six months, concluding its term in June 2023.

Houthis Escalate Threats to Target all Ships Bound for Israel in Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

Expand existing task force to protect Red Sea from Houthi attacks,” by Bradley Bowman and Mike Daum

Houthis in Yemen Target Vessels in Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

Add Israel to the Combined Maritime Forces and its Red Sea task force,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Military and Political Power