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  • Tshegofatso Johanna Ramachela

Houthis on the Horizon: Group Threatens to Expand Their Operations in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Map, Houthis Threatens to Shipping

The Eastern Mediterranean remains an unsettled region, marked by prolonged conflicts in Libya and Syria, ongoing tensions between Turkey and Greece, and several regional actors competing for dominance and access to the rich offshore gas reserves. In early May 2024, the Houthis declared their intention to extend their operations into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

To date, the Houthis have executed attacks in the southern Red Sea, in and around the Bab al-Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden. Despite the US-led multinational coalition Operation Prosperity Guardian conducting airstrikes on Houthi targets, the group has not been deterred from targeting one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. The Houthis have proven their capability to disrupt the shipping industry. Due to the instability in the Red Sea, a number of major shipping companies have diverted to alternative routes, namely opting for the route around the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.

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In response to Israel’s assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, the Houthis declared their intent to attack Israeli-bound vessels anywhere, within their range. The group’s military spokesperson Yahya Saree said “We will target any ships heading to Israeli ports in the Mediterranean Sea in any area we are able to reach”. The question is do the Houthis possess the capabilities to achieve this?

The Houthis possess sophisticated weaponry and have a proven track record in maritime tactics. An assessment of their maritime assets and weapons stockpiles, including but not limited to anti-ship ballistic missiles, drones, sea mines, and unmanned surface vessels (USV) indicates that the Houthis are well-equipped and poised to not only sustain but potentially expand their operations. Analysts contend that while the threat posed by the Houthis should be considered cautiously, it should not be disregarded.

While it may seem improbable that the Houthis will target vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean, shipping companies should remain cautious and continue to pursue alternative routes.

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