January 5, 2024 | Flash Brief

Houthi Attacks on International Shipping Continue

January 5, 2024 | Flash Brief

Houthi Attacks on International Shipping Continue

Latest Developments

Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to attack commercial ships in the Red Sea, a U.S. military commander said on January 4. “There are no signs their irresponsible behavior is abating,” said U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper. The attacks persist despite the presence of a U.S.-led multilateral naval mission in the region.

The Houthis, who toppled Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2014, have launched 25 attacks against commercial ships since November 18. On November 19, the Houthis seized the Bahamas-flagged cargo ship Galaxy Leader and continue to hold the vessel and 25 members of its crew hostage. Cooper said that 55 nations have direct connections to the ships the Houthis have attacked. The U.S. Navy and its partners have been forced to shoot down 19 drones and missiles in recent weeks. Despite the 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.

Expert Analysis

“The administration deserves credit for building on the existing combined task force to create a multilateral operation that has helped more than 1,500 merchant vessels safely transit the Red Sea. But the administration’s reluctance to authorize U.S. military strikes on Houthi launchers, radars, and facilities enabling the attacks undermines U.S. force protection and invites more of the same.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“Effectively deterring Houthi attacks will take more than defensive measures such as escorts and shooting down incoming threats. The administration needs to stop fretting about how their actions will be perceived and impose costs on Houthis — hitting missile launch and stowage facilities, small boat and helicopter bases, and leadership nodes. Only by conducting deterrence through punishment will these attacks stop.” — RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology and FDD Senior Fellow

Operation Prosperity Guardian

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the creation of Operation Prosperity Guardian during a visit to the Middle East on December 18. Cooper confirmed on January 4 that 22 countries are now contributing to the operation, with some supporting the mission discreetly. He said Greece and Denmark have announced they are willing to send ships to support the effort. Operation Prosperity Guardian is being run by the pre-existing Combined Task Force 153 (CTF 153), focusing on the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

International Warning

The United States and a dozen other countries on January 3 warned the Houthis “against further attacks” in the Red Sea. “The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce,” the multinational group said. They noted that “nearly 15 percent of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea, including 8 percent of global grain trade, 12 percent of seaborne-traded oil and 8 percent of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade.”

Houthis Continue Threats Despite New U.S.-Led Multilateral Red Sea Operation,” FDD Flash Brief

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

Tehran’s terror proxy in Yemen targets Israel and international shipping,” by Bradley Bowman and Ryan Brobst

Securing Contested Waters: A Conversation with NAVCENT Commander Vice Adm. Cooper,” FDD Event


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy