Houthi Rebel Threat to Suez Canal Will Be 'Catastrophic' for Global Trade

Any attempt by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to jeopardize access to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf will have "catastrophic consequences" for global trade, an analyst has told Newsweek.

Yemen plunged into a brutal civil war in 2015. The conflict has pitted Houthi rebels against the ousted government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, supported by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

The rebels have now warned that they would bring shipping to a halt unless the coalition stops its advance towards rebel coastal strongholds.

The coalition said it thwarted an attack on January 6, after Houthi rebels packed a vessel with bombs to target a Saudi oil tanker in the al-Mandeb Strait.

The strait connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and controls access to the Suez Canal.

Colonel Turki al-Maliki, a spokesperson for the coalition, told The Times that the rebels continue to pose a threat to international trade and marine navigation. He added that they use the Hodeidah port, which they control, to "launch terrorist attacks".

 Hodeida Port
A view of Yemen's rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida on November 7, 2017. Hodeida is a key entry point for United Nations aid to war-torn Yemen. ABDO HYDER/AFP/Getty Images

If rebels continue to carry out attacks targeting shipping, this would result in the closure of the al-Mandeb Strait, meaning that ships will have to bypass the Suez Canal and circumnavigate Africa, damaging global trade.

"The Houthi rebels are aware that the Red Sea and Persian Gulf are strategic to Saudi Arabia and the global oil supply," analyst and counter-terrorism expert David Otto told Newsweek.

"The Saudis know this as well and are doing everything possible to keep that area safe. If an act of sabotage interferes with oil supply, Saudi Arabia and indeed the oil economy will be seriously affected and the effects will be catastrophic," he concluded.

Saudi Arabia and its allies closed air, land and sea access to the Arabian Peninsula last November, claiming that this would stop Iran's alleged flow of arms to the rebels. Tehran has denied claims it is supplying weapons to the rebels.

Humanitarian agencies claimed the blockade worsened a humanitarian crisis in conflict-ridden Yemen, where millions face a famine and 10,000 have been killed. Saudi Arabia re-opened the Sanaa airport and access to the Hodeidah port to allow humanitarian access.