Fears of escalation in Middle East grow as Houthis launch most devastating offensive yet

Armed Yemeni supporters of the Houthi movement sit in the back of an armored vehicle during an anti-Israel and anti-US demonstration in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 22, 2024, amid ongoing fighting between Israel and the militant group. Hamas in Gaza.

Mohammed Huwais | Afp | Getty Images

The Middle East looks poised for an escalation on multiple fronts as Israeli forces close in on what’s left of southern Gaza, and as Yemen’s Houthi rebels launch their deadliest strike on a ship in the Red Sea.

The crew of the Belize-flagged British bulk carrier MV Rubymar were forced to abandon ship in the Gulf of Aden on Monday, receiving help from a nearby merchant vessel and a coalition warship to reach a nearby port after “two anti-ballistic anti-ship Missiles were fired from areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-backed Houthi terrorists,” according to the US Central Command.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Shari claimed the group’s responsibility for the attack, describing it as the most serious yet. The group claims to support Palestinian civilians amid Israel’s military campaign of retaliation in the Gaza Strip.

“The ship was severely damaged, leading to a complete standstill… It is now in danger of sinking in the Gulf of Aden,” Shari said on Monday.

At the same time, fighting is raging between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip with no signs of abating despite diplomatic efforts by some countries.

Israel’s government has warned of a possible ground invasion of Rafah, the southern corner of Gaza along the Egyptian border, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians — most displaced from other parts of Gaza — are sheltering, mostly in makeshift tents with very little access to food, water and medicine.

More than 29,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s offensive on the enclave began on October 7, when Hamas militants launched an unprecedented terror attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 people and took another 240 hostage.

“I think unfortunately, we have to be prepared for more escalation really on two fronts,” Charles Myers, chairman and founder of consulting firm Signum Global Advisors, told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Tuesday.

“The Houthis are proving much more effective in disrupting international maritime trade,” Myers said.

“And the military response so far from the US and the UK has not reduced or degraded their capabilities, which means we need a much larger military response from the US and the UK in the coming days to try to take out more of those possibilities, so we have to watch it from the other side.”

INTERNATIONAL WATERS RED SEA, YEMEN – NOVEMBER 20: This video capture flyer shows the seizure of Galaxy Leader Cargo by Yemeni Houthi fighters on the Red Sea coast off Hudaydah on November 20, 2023 in Red Sea, Yemen .

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Meanwhile, “Israel, I think, will continue its drive to conquer Gaza in the next four to six weeks,” Myers said. “So now they’re already focused on the second phase of their war, which is to push Hezbollah 32 kilometers back into Lebanon, which is even more controversial in some ways from a geopolitical or military perspective. And we have to see what Hezbollah does to respond to Israel.”

Hezbollah, the heavily armed Lebanese Shiite militia and Iran-backed organization, is also involved in regular firefights with Israeli forces as well as attacks on Israeli military installations, while Israel has carried out assassinations of senior Hezbollah and Hamas officials in Beirut. . An all-out war between the two would be disastrous for both sides, regional analysts say.

Alert for a planned Israeli attack on Rafah

Twenty-six EU countries — all members of the bloc except Hungary — have issued a warning against Israel’s attack on Rafah, saying it would only deepen the humanitarian disaster there.

EU foreign ministers called in a joint statement for an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a permanent ceasefire. Even the US, Israel’s staunchest supporter, proposed a rival draft UN Security Council resolution and also called for a temporary ceasefire – the first time the US had used the word ceasefire in any UN action related to the war.

Israel’s government has so far rejected the calls, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that anyone who tells Israel not to invade Rafah is telling it to lose the war.

However, the government has not fully committed to the attack, with some ministers saying it will only proceed if the Israeli hostages are not released by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around March 8.

A woman and children sit outside tents hosting displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Mohammed Abed | Afp | Getty Images

Asked by CNBC’s Dan Murphy if there was anything the international community could do to stop Israel’s planned attack on Rafah, Myers said no.

“No, I think at this point the war cabinet in Israel will continue on their path, which they have told the world … is the complete conquest of Gaza. We might get a temporary ceasefire, which is being worked on again between the US, Qatar, Israel and other countries. But even if it is a temporary ceasefire, Israel will come right back and it will be over, they will take Rafa,” he said.

Myers noted that the Biden administration has been more critical than ever of Israel’s plans, openly opposing any invasion of Rafah. But that likely won’t be enough to force Israel to change course, he said.

“Even the Biden administration, which has had a rhetorical shift in the last week on Gaza, is really stepping up the rhetoric and kind of threats to Israel saying ‘please slow down, please stop, please watch out for all the civilian casualties.’ , for example… I think that even with this pivot, Israel will continue to do exactly what it is doing.”

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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