UN Warns – Tensions In The Red Sea May Soon Be Impossible To Contain

Yemen Bombing

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a press conference in New York on Monday: The current instability in the Middle East may soon spiral completely out of control.

Guterres once again addressed the crisis triggered by the events of October 7, when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages. The ensuing Israeli blockade, bombing, and ground assault of Gaza has since killed almost 24,000 people, according to local health officials.

The civilian death toll in Gaza has resulted in widespread international condemnation of Israel’s actions, and has already drawn the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthis into the conflict.

“Tensions are also sky-high in the Red Sea and beyond – and may soon be impossible to contain,” Guterres said, adding that he is concerned that “daily exchanges of fire” risk “triggering a broader escalation between Israel and Lebanon and profoundly affecting regional stability.”

The UN secretary-general has said that “the longer the conflict in Gaza continues, the greater the risk of escalation and miscalculation.”

While the secretary-general condemned the actions of Hamas, he also blasted the Israeli operation as “collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” saying it has caused an “unprecedented level of civilian casualties,” while noting that “the vast majority of those killed are women and children.”

Last week, the Houthis pledged to continue targeting Israeli- and U.S.-linked ships in the Red Sea “until the siege on Gaza is lifted.” The Houthis have also targeted British and U.S. warships operating in the area as part of an international maritime operation organized last month by the U.S. to safeguard shipping in the region. The “heightening tensions” also led Iran to send one of their warships to the Red Sea earlier this month.

U.S. and UK warplanes attacked Houthi targets in Yemen with around 70 airstrikes last Thursday and Friday. While U.S. National Security spokesman John Kirby stated that the strikes are having a “good effect,” a New York Times report claimed that around three-quarters of Houthi military assets remain intact.


Russia Condemns U.S.-UK’s Yemen Strike

Russia has condemned the strikes on Yemen, calling them “illegal” and saying they were carried out in violation of the UN Charter.

Houthis hit U.S. Ship With Missile

Yemen’s Houthi militants struck an American container ship with a ballistic missile on Monday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The militants have vowed to target merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden in response to Israel’s war on Hamas.

On Monday afternoon, “Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and struck the M/V Gibraltar Eagle, a Marshall Islands-flagged, U.S.-owned and operated container ship,” Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, said in a statement.

“The ship has reported no injuries or significant damage and is continuing its journey,” the statement continued.

Earlier on Monday, U.S. forces detected the launch of an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen, Central Command added, noting that this earlier launch “failed in flight and impacted on land in Yemen.”

The strike came less than a week after the U.S. and UK launched a military operation in the Red Sea, with the stated goal of keeping commercial shipping routes between the Arabian and Mediterranean Seas open via the Suez Canal. 

This passage accounts for around 15% of the world’s shipping traffic, and with Houthi forces launching 28 attacks on merchant vessels as of Monday, major transportation firms including Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM, and Hapag-Lloyd have rerouted their ships around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, a far longer route between Asia and Europe.

Houthi forces have also targeted British and American military vessels operating in the region.

UK Prime Minister

In a speech to parliament on Monday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the UK is prepared to take further military action if necessary. American officials told the New York Times that the U.S. could also launch a second wave of strikes.

Türkiye

The U.S. and British bombing campaigns have been condemned by Türkiye. Moscow called the operations “illegitimate” due to the lack of UN Security Council permission, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the two nations of seeking to turn the Red Sea into a “sea of blood.”

Iran Fires Missiles At ‘Terrorists And Spies’ Bear The U.S. Consulate In Erbil

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) says it used ballistic missiles against an ISIS base in Syria and a stronghold of the Israeli spy service Mossad in Iraq on Monday, in retaliation for recent terrorist bombings in Iran.

Two explosions killed almost 100 people in Kerman on January 3, as pilgrims gathered to honor the late General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by the U.S. in 2020. Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) claimed responsibility. Last month, another suicide bombing in the town of Rask killed 11 Iranian police. It was blamed on the Pakistani-based group Jaish Al-Adl.

“In response to the recent crimes of the terrorist groups that unjustly martyred a group of our dear compatriots in Kerman and Rask, we have identified gathering places of commanders and elements of ISIS related to recent terrorist operations in the occupied territories of Syria and destroyed them by firing a number of ballistic missiles,” the IRGC said in a statement.

In a follow-up statement, the IRGC said it also used missiles against “one of the main espionage headquarters of the Zionist regime [Mossad] in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.”

The attack was “in response to the recent evils of the Zionist regime in martyring the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Resistance Front,” it added.

“We assure our beloved nation that the offensive operations of the IRGC will continue until the last drops of martyrs’ blood are avenged,” the group said.

While the announcements did not specify the location of either strike, reports from Iraq indicate that the missiles struck the city of Erbil. Iran has attacked alleged Israeli targets in Erbil before, in March 2022, in reprisal over airstrikes in Syria that killed two IRGC officers.

The suspected Mossad base was near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, leading to mistaken reports that the Americans had been targeted.

An Iraqi security source told ABC News that four people were killed in Erbil, but that no American troops were among them. The same source said that “eight locations” near the US consulate had been hit.

Iranian media has circulated several videos purporting to show the missiles being launched. There were unconfirmed reports of multiple explosions and gunfire in Erbil, presumably from air defenses attempting to engage the incoming projectiles.

Major LNG Exporter Suspends Shipping Through Red Sea

A Reuters report said on Monday: A leading global exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), QatarEnergy, has stopped sending tankers via the Red Sea amid growing uncertainty about the safety of passage on the vital shipping route.

An unnamed source with knowledge of the matter told the outlet that at least four tankers that used to carry Qatari LNG were held up over the weekend following last week’s air and sea strikes by the U.S. and UK on Yemen in response to Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Ship-tracking data shows that three of those tankers had loaded LNG at Ras Laffan in Qatar and were supposed to head to the Suez Canal but instead stopped off the coast of Oman on January 14, according to the report. The fourth tanker, which was heading back to Qatar, stopped along its route on January 13 in the Red Sea.

“It is a pause to get security advice, if passing (through the) Red Sea remains unsafe we will go via the Cape,” the source was quoted as saying. “It is not a halt of production,” the source added.

According to the LSEG (London Stock Exchange Group) data cited by Reuters, Qatar shipped more than 75 million metric tons of the fuel in 2023, of which 14 million tons were supplied to buyers in Europe and 56.4 million tons to Asia.

Shipping giants have started sending their vessels, including those carrying LNG, on longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa’s Cape of Good Hope after Yemen-based Houthi rebels instituted a de facto blockade through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. They have been attacking vessels thought to be linked to Israel in what they say is a show of solidarity with the Palestinians following the escalation of hostilities in Gaza.

The Suez Canal is the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, accounting for about 15% of the world’s shipping traffic. According to a report by the IfW Kiel, global trade plunged by 1.3% from November to December 2023 as a result of the Houthi attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea.

Red Sea Blockade Undermining Global Commerce

A report by the IfW Kiel said: World trade plunged by 1.3% from November to December 2023 as a result of Houthi attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea.

The German economic institute said on Thursday that the volume of containers transported via the Red Sea had plummeted by more than half as of December and is currently almost 70% below the volume that would usually be expected.

The research shows that currently around 200,000 containers are being transported via the Red Sea daily, down from some 500,000 per day in November.

“The detour of ships due to the attacks in the Red Sea around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa means that the time it takes to transport goods between Asian production centers and European consumers is significantly extended by up to 20 days,” said Julian Hinz, director of the IfW Kiel’s trade policy research center.

“This is also reflected in the declining trade figures for Germany and the EU, as transported goods are now still at sea and have not already been unloaded in the harbors as planned,” Hinz added.

The IfW Kiel’s trade indicator for December shows exports from and imports to the EU dropped by 2% and 3.1%, respectively. The U.S. saw a 1.5% decline in exports and a 1% fall in imports, even though the route through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal plays a lesser role for the U.S. than for Europe, according to the report.

China’s trade bucked the trend, with both exports and imports up 1.3% and 3.1%, respectively. The increase could be likely due to the upcoming Chinese New Year, IfW Kiel wrote.

Shipping giants such as Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd started sending their vessels on longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa’s Cape of Good Hope after Yemen-based Houthi rebels instituted a de facto blockade through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. They have been attacking vessels thought to be linked to Israel in what they say is a show of solidarity with the Palestinians following the escalation of hostilities in Gaza.

Iran Confirms ‘Retaliatory’ Oil Tanker Seizure

An oil tanker has been boarded and seized by Iranian forces in Gulf of Oman, Tehran’s Navy confirmed on Thursday.

The St Nikolas – a Greek-owned vessel bearing the Marshall Islands flag – was taken in retaliation for last year’s incident in which the U.S. captured a cargo of Iranian oil from the same ship, according to Iran’s Navy.

The “seizure took place on a court order,” the Navy reported, as the “Suez Rajan tanker had earlier stolen an Iranian oil cargo and handed it over to the US.”

Under the name Suez Rajan, the vessel was in the spotlight of a legal battle last year, after the watchdog organization United Against Nuclear Iran reported that it was transporting Iranian oil to China in violation of U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. seized the vessel, and in the following court case, the charterers of the vessel pleaded guilty and received fines. The tanker ultimately cooperated with the U.S. and sailed to Houston, where nearly a million barrels of Iranian oil were confiscated. Iran then pledged to retaliate.

The St. Nikolas sailed under the name Suez Rajan until September of last year, and was carrying a cargo of crude oil from Iraq to Turkey when it was boarded by Iranian forces early on Thursday.

In a press briefing later in the day, White House national security spokesman John Kirby commented on the event, stating that the U.S. authorities “condemn this apparent seizure.” He demanded that the Iranian government “immediately release the ship and its crew,” calling Iran’s actions “provocative and unacceptable.”

The move comes at a tense time for the region, with both the Iranian and U.S. navies sending warships into the area. Iran’s Alborz destroyer was deployed to the Red Sea in early January due to “heightening tensions,” according to Iranian state news IRNA. The U.S. Navy sent warships to the area after attacks on shipping by Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have vowed to attack any vessel they see as “Israel-linked” until Israel ends its bombardment of Gaza.

Multiple U.S. Navy destroyers, along with warships from other nations, have operated near the Suez Canal shipping routes since December 19 as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian. Several have already come under attack from Houthi drones and missiles, while Houthi boats have been struck in retaliation over the past two months.

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