Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Here’s what’s on tap for the day: A look at how much damage the Houthis and their Iranian weapons can do in the Red Sea, disorder on Capitol Hill over U.S. military aid, and the southern border, and how Sweden is making the most of NATO’s waiting room.
Building Up Since they first began launching missile and drone attacks on commercial ships to protest the Israeli military offensive in Gaza last November, the Yemen-based Houthis have drastically cut maritime trade in the Red Sea, a strategic global trade chokepoint. At least 30 attacks on ships in the Red Sea have been reported since Nov. 19, with 13 suffering direct drone or missile strikes, severely impacting global maritime trade.
U.S. and British strikes on Houthi military targets since Jan. 11 have degraded the group’s arsenal, but they haven’t halted or slowed attacks so far. The attacks have bolstered the Houthis’ reputation and credentials, generating anger at the high civilian casualty toll in Gaza.
Two major questions are being considered in Washington: how much damage the Houthis can do and how long they can sustain their attacks. The Houthi attacks have sent shockwaves through the global economy, as maritime trade through Egypt’s Suez Canal has dropped 42 percent in the last two months. Concerns have risen about potential targeting of undersea cables in the region that carry data and financial communications between Europe and Asia.
The risk of the conflict escalating is a major concern, with U.S. and British warships in the region able to shoot down Houthi missiles and drones. However, there is still the possibility of an accidental escalation. U.S. President Joe Biden would face political pressure to launch a devastating response if Houthi attacks caused U.S. casualties or struck U.S. warships.
A new intelligence report from the U.S. Defense Department details the Houthis’ arsenal, most of which can be linked back to Iran. The Houthis have maintained an arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles and drones under years of Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. The conflict’s end is not in sight, and the game of Houthi strikes and U.S. and British counterstrikes may continue.
In other news, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi would be replaced by Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi as Ukraine’s top general. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, head of the United Nations political mission in Iraq, is expected to depart in May. Stephen Capus has been named the president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and several other officials have taken on new roles in various organizations.
A U.S. drone strike hit a car in eastern Baghdad on Wednesday night, and Sweden is pursuing its NATO bid while waiting for approval.