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Houthis Wage Non-Traditional War in Bab al-Mandab Fueled Booby-Trapped Boats | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Pro-government Yemeni forces patrol a coastline along the Bab al-Mandab strait. (AFP)

London – Even the producers of the Johnny Depp-helmed “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise have not reached the heights of criminal imagination as the Houthis and Saleh militias in their threats to maritime traffic in Bab al-Mandab.

The strait, which witnesses 7 percent of the world’s maritime traffic, is the scene of a non-traditional war that is threatening the passage of some 25,000 ships annually and 4.7 million oil barrels daily, said a US Energy Information Administration report.

Saudi military expert Amro al-Ameri said that trade ships are the most vulnerable to the militia attacks because international law does not allow them to be armed.

He warned that the Houthi attacks are not limited against Arab Coalition ships, but they are a violation of international and maritime laws, which threatens world peace. He therefore underlined the need for political escalation from the entire world, not just the Arab Coalition, to confront the threat.

Ameri said that warships can confront the Houthi boats as they are equipped to deal with marine warfare. The difficulty lies in protecting civilian or trade ships, he said, because they travel in a “peaceful manner and are simply crossing the strait.”

They are not prepared for a confrontation with the Houthi threat and they often have a small crew that can just manage the operation and navigation of the vessel, he added.

Furthermore, international law prohibits these ships from carrying or stocking weapons and they should therefore be placed under its protection, he demanded.

“Iran’s threats to international maritime navigation should be interpreted politically before being interpreted militarily. The policy of political blackmail is one that Tehran adopts in promoting its revolutionary pride on the internal scene,” explained Ameri.

“On the international scene, it aims to bleed the US politically and force it to adopt a political approach that would yield political geo-strategic gains for it in the Arab Gulf and Arab and Red Seas,” he stressed.

Ameri said that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was signed by 132 countries, ensures the freedom of navigation in all of the world’s straits.

Article 38 of the Convention stressed: “All ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded.”

According to Abdullah al-Juneid, a political researcher at Jordan’s CMT Studies Center, said that Iran is seeking to achieve geo-strategic goals in the Hormuz Strait, Arab Sea and Bab al-Mandab.

To that end, it has employed the “Qader” rocket that the Houthis have used in their criminal attack against an Emirati relief vessel, Swift, in the Red Sea on October 1, 2016, he continued.

Similar rocket attacks targeted a US destroyer and Arab Coalition ship.

The Qader rocket has a range beyond that of the Red Sea, meaning that several coastal locations can fall in the line of fire if these rockets are mounted on speedboats, he warned.

“Iran has even developed remote-controlled booby-trapped boats that were used to attack a Saudi frigate near the Hodeidah coast,” al-Juneid said.

This same tactic was used to target a Saudi oil platform in the Red Sea.