Alert Plus: US and UK launch air strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen
Current Situation of US and UK air strikes in Yemen
Intelligence cut off time 15:00 GMT 12th of January 2024
On the 11-12 January, US and UK aircraft and warships conducted at least 70 strikes on multiple military targets in Houthi-controlled Yemen. Reports indicate that over 100 precision guided munitions were fired on at least 16 Houthi locations. This includes a military base adjacent to Sanaa airport, a military site near Taiz airport, a Houthi naval base in Hodeidah and military sites in Hajjah governorate. Houthi’s stated that five of the group’s fighters were killed in the strikes with six others wounded.
The US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, released a statement indicating that targeted strikes were conducted on sites associated with unmanned aerial vehicle’s (UAV), ballistic and cruise missiles, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities.
Majority of the firepower came from US jets, with the US having the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower already in the Red Sea, as well as air bases in the region. US Navy warships also fired Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (LACMs), which are GPS-guided and can be programmed to fly evasively. The UK contributed by sending four RAF Typhoons from Akrotiri, Cyprus, carrying Paveway IV guided bombs.
Houthi Response to UK and US Air Strikes in Yemen
In response, the Houthis have stated that they are not deterred by the attacks. The group’s leader, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, stated that the US and UK would “soon realise” the action was “the greatest folly in their history”. Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad responded by saying that the strikes show Washington and London’s support for Tel Aviv and that the West are now responsible for the subsequent impact on the region’s security. Iran also responded forcefully, expressing that the strikes were a breach of international laws. Saudi Arabia and Jordan did not condemn the attacks but did call for restraint. Several Western nations supported the operation as an attempt to restore the free flow of trade and deter further Houthi attacks.
Who is Behind The Houthi Movement?
The Houthi Movement is an Iranian aligned group that controls much of Yemen after nearly a decade of civil war against a Western-backed and Saudi-led coalition. The two sides are currently observing a tentative ceasefire that officially ended in late 2022 but has remained in place to the current day.
Following the outbreak of the Hamas-Israel conflict, the Houthi’s emerged as a strong supporter of the Palestinian Islamist group. The Houthis began attacks on shipping between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in December 2023, claiming to target vessels linked to Israeli persons, businesses, and interests.
However, this route, which links Europe and Asia and Africa via the Suez Canal, accounts for roughly 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic. The attacks have forced some shipping companies to limit transits through the waterway, or even cease operations altogether, instead taking the longer route around southern Africa. This has significantly disrupted international commerce, increasing delivery costs and time, stoking fears about a global inflation.
US response to Houthi Attacks on 9th January 2024
In response to the Houthi attacks, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian alongside several allies, which aimed to end the blockade and counter all threats by Houthi forces against international maritime trade. The operation was defensive in nature, destroying only missiles launched at vessels with no pro-active strikes conducted. The Houthis continued to fire at merchant vessels, as well as allied naval vessels, dismissing warnings from Washington and London. Then on 9 January, US and British warships shot down 21 drones and missiles, repelling the largest Houthi attack so far.
How will UK and US airstrikes in Yemen affect global stability?
It is highly likely that the Houthi’s largest attack to date on 9 January was the trigger that surpassed the US-UK threshold. While international prices have yet to see a significant impact, Operation Prosperity Guardian was not working as a deterrent. It is highly likely that more extensive, continued Houthi action would force more merchant vessels away from the Red Sea, almost certainly disrupting maritime trade, therefore increasing consumer prices and shortages.
What course of action will the Houthi’s take to retaliate?
In the immediate aftermath, the Houthi’s are highly likely to increase their attacks on commercial and military vessels in the region in retaliation. However, it is likely that their ability to launch missiles and drones has been degraded. Should the Houthis sustain their attacks, it is almost certain that the US and UK will continue their strikes on targets within Yemen. It is also highly likely that the group will be re-designated as a terrorist organisation if they continue. This would have a significant impact on the peace process to end the Yemeni Civil War between the Houthi’s and the Saudi-led coalition, which has continued to progress despite regional tensions.
A breakdown of the process would almost certainly see a resumption of hostilities between the two sides, with locations within Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates likely becoming viable targets for the Houthi’s as evidenced by their previous attacks.
Will the UK and US involvement spark conflict with the Middle East?
Across the Middle East, it is highly likely that Houthi’s allies and other Iranian proxies start to act in solidarity with the group. These groups will almost certainly view the attacks as Western support for Israel.
It is almost certain that Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq and Syria will continue to target US military bases across the region. It is also likely that the frequency and scale of these attacks will increase considerably. There is a realistic possibility that US military locations that have not been targeted yet in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, are targeted.
Hezbollah will likely continue to focus its attacks on Israel, however an attack on the US cannot be ruled out. While still unlikely, the US and UK strikes on Yemen have increased the likelihood of a wider conflict developing in the Middle East, as well as the West entering a proxy war with Iran. This eventuality would highly likely take focus away from the conflict in Gaza, almost certainly intensifying the humanitarian situation.
Travel Risk Advice
- Avoid all non-essential travel to Yemen.
- Anyone operating in the region should monitor events from a reliable source in case of a major escalation.
- Key military and political infrastructure inside Sana’a are very likely to remain focal points for violence and demonstrations. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice from the local security authorities.
- Avoid US and UK embassies or consulates across the region as these will likely be the epicentres for demonstrations.
- If air-raid or rocket warning sirens are sounded, seek secure shelter immediately, ideally in a purpose-built shelter. If in a building when sirens are sounded, head to a secure room, stairwell or inner room. Close all windows and doors, stay in shelter for ten minutes after the siren ends.
- If hostilities resume between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition, key civilian and military installations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE will likely become targets. Avoid these locations if not essential.
- Previous Houthi attacks have targeted major airports. Ensure alternative travel plans have been prepared for, as well as all individuals having comprehensive travel insurance.
- Mariners in the region should proceed with extreme caution, maintaining contact with port and shipping authorities at all times.
- Always follow all instructions and orders from security forces. Where possible, avoid areas of active conflict and remain inside a secure location away from windows.
- Ensure that you always carry personal identification documents. Consider making photocopies of important documents in case of confiscation, theft or loss.Keep these documents separated from the originals.
- Have emergency contact numbers saved on your phone. These should include the local authorities, medical facilities and any consular support. Ensure that mobile phones are charged in case of any losses in electricity.
- If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek shelter immediately and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place.
- Monitor the Solace Secure platform and trusted local media for relevant updates.
More on the recent activity in the region
Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the Houthi Movement has supported the Palestinian cause by targeting southern Israel directly and Israeli-linked vessels on shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, and the Bab-al-Mandeb.
Houthi Seizure of Merchant Vessel Galaxy Leader
In a brazen incident on 19 November, the Galaxy Leader, a Bahamian-flagged and Japanese-operated merchant vessel (IMO: 9237307), fell victim to suspected Houthi Movement militants in the Southern Red Sea.
Israel-Hamas War 2023
With the incursion into southern Israel by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas over the weekend of 7 and 8 October, this eventuality became a reality, and the region is now on the precipice of a protracted and deadly conflict.
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Security in Dubai, UAE and COP28 Climate Change Summit
The United Nations Climate Change Summit, COP28 will be hosted in Dubai at the end of the month to bring together global leaders in an effort to take action against climate change.
The Middle East, with its vast energy resources, intricate alliances, and ongoing conflicts, plays a crucial role in the global energy landscape, and the consequences of regional conflicts and geopolitical dynamics in the area have far-reaching implications for the world’s environmental and sustainability goals.
However, in addition to the long-standing geopolitical tensions and conflicts, the Israel-Hamas war holds the potential to heighten tensions and detract from the success of this summit, with the likely possibility of an increasing security risk to Westerners travelling to Dubai.
In this article:
- Security factors during COP28 in Dubai
- Background on Houthi Movement in Yemen
- UAE’s involvement in the Yemen conflict
- Potential for further destabilisation triggered by the Israel-Hamas War?
- Potential outcomes for security in Dubai and UAE
Security factors during COP28 in Dubai
Many Israeli climate organisations have stated that they will boycott COP28 and it is highly likely that Israel will be forced to withdraw from COP28 entirely due to security concerns.
However, COP28 will still attract thousands of Westerners, including many world leaders, diplomats and influential businesspeople. It is likely that COP28 represents an attractive target for terrorist actors due to the influx of foreigners and the international publicity of the event.
On 29 October, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) issued a warning for British tourists visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE), indicating an increased threat of terrorist attacks. The advisory warns of a very likely risk of terrorist attacks, which could be indiscriminate and may target places frequented by foreigners. While terror attacks within the UAE and rare and the Emirati counter-terrorist forces are heavily financed and well-trained, there is a realistic possibility that forces will be overstretched as a result of COP28 and that self-radicalisation within the region will increase as a result of the situation in the Gaza Strip.
Background on Houthi Movement in Yemen
In 2004, the Iranian-backed Houthi Movement, otherwise known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God), rebelled against the Yemeni government with the aspiration of taking control over the entirety of Yemen. The conflict escalated in 2014 when Houthi forces seized Yemen’s capital, Sanna, and forced the Yemeni government into exile. This led to the deployment of a Saudi-led coalition in 2015 that seeks to establish full territorial control by the internationally recognised government within Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition consists of predominantly Sunni and Arab nations such as the UAE, and is backed by Western powers including the USA, UK and France.
UAE’s involvement in the Yemen conflict
The UAE’s involvement in the coalition has involved a range of military and logistical support for the government of Yemen, including air strikes, the deployment of troops to Yemen and training local Yemeni militias allied to government forces.
The UAE’s involvement in the conflict has made it a target for Houthi forces who have developed an arsenal of long-range drones and missiles facilitated by Iran. Houthi forces have conducted numerous drone and missile attacks on the UAE, typically targeting strategic locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, such as airports, ports and oil facilities.
Since 2019, the UAE has significantly reduced its military footprint in Yemen, however it still projects power through its support of a number of militias allied to Yemeni government forces. The Houthis have conducted attacks on the UAE in response to successful military operations by pro-government militias supported by Abu Dhabi, which resulted in a series of high-profile attacks in 2022 against high-profile targets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
While the UAE maintains a sophisticated air-defence capability and has been able to shoot down the majority of projectiles within its airspace, it is likely that the Houthis have sufficient drones and missiles to overwhelm and penetrate UAE air defence.
The Houthi Movement have currently been in talks with Saudi Arabia and other local actors regarding a ceasefire.
Potential for further destabilisation triggered by the Israel-Hamas War?
There is a realistic possibility that the Israel-Hamas war destabilises the Middle East, and Iran exploits the situation to order its proxy forces to attack Israeli, Western and anti-Iranian forces and interests throughout the region.
Houthi forces have attempted drone and missile attacks on Israel in response to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) military activity in the Gaza Strip, with all attacks to date intercepted by IDF or US air defence.
There is a realistic possibility that both Saudi and the UAE will be forced to respond to Houthi attacks which will invariably provoke retaliatory attacks from the Houthis. Moreover, there is also a realistic possibility that the Houthi rebels might seek to exploit the current situation in the Middle East to conduct attacks on the UAE.
In the event of a wider conflict involving Israel, the Houthi rebels could exploit regional tensions to launch missile and drone attacks, engage in cyber warfare, and employ asymmetric tactics against the UAE, aiming to distract or pressure the UAE due to its involvement in regional security initiatives and the Saudi-led coalition.
A further motivation for the Houthis, who are backed by Iran and reportedly allied to Hezbollah, would be to present themselves as defenders of the Palestinian cause and target the UAE for its recent normalisation of relations with Israel and ties to the West.
Potential outcomes for security in Dubai and UAE
If the Israel-Hamas conflict is not contained and provokes a US retaliation, the Supreme Leader of the Houthi Movement has issued a statement declaring that they will respond with drones and missiles, and with the Al Dhafra Air Base located just to the south of Abu Dhabi, it is highly likely that Houthi forces will attempt to target the US military and US interests within the UAE.
For those travelling on business to UAE or will be attending COP28, Solace Global Risk facilitate safer travel for corporate travellers, executives and private clients, with travel risk assessments and end-to-end secure journey management.
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Israel’s Military Strategy and Biden’s Visit
Current Assessment of Israel Hamas Conflict
Intelligence cut-off time 11:00 GMT 17th of October 2023
Whilst it remains almost certain that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) will commit to a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, this is unlikely to occur within the next 24-48 hours.
The main factor contributing to the postponement is the recent revelation of President Biden’s visit to Israel for discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday 18 October. It is highly unlikely that the US will sponsor an IDF invasion while President Biden is within Israel due to the threat associated with Hezbollah retaliation from Lebanon, which will almost certainly be backed by the Iranian regime, or from one of the other militant groups operating out of the West Bank. It is estimated that Hezbollah alone has amassed a stock of over 150,000 rockets. While most of these rockets are crude and unguided munitions that range out only to 10-40km, Hezbollah also maintain a stock of more sophisticated Iranian-derived rocket and missile systems such as the Fateh-110 (250-300km), SCUD-B/C/D (300-550km) and the Zelzal 1/2 ballistic missiles (125-250km). Such weapon systems enable Hezbollah to target high-value targets such as Ben Gurion airport with a high degree of accuracy. While it is expected that Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system will detect and intercept the majority of rockets, there is a realistic possibility that Hezbollah could launch missile and rocket salvos large enough to overwhelm the air defence system.
Given the missile and rocket threat posed by Hezbollah and the fact Hamas have now likely fired the majority of their rockets, there is a realistic possibility that the IDF will be forced to reposition mobile elements of its Iron Dome system to counter the emerging threat in the north.
Iran’s Involvement with Israel Hamas Conflict
Iran has warned that its proxy forces will conduct “pre-emptive action” in response to Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza, which will invariably include the use of Hezbollah forces. However, it is unlikely that Hezbollah will conduct any major attacks with President Biden in Israel for fear of a major US retaliation.
Moreover, it is more likely that Hezbollah and Iran will wait until Israel commits forces to Gaza as the IDF will have a considerable amount of its forces fixed in the south, offering a tactically advantageous position to open up a northern front that will almost certainly stretch IDF forces and complicate Israeli re-supply and sustainment. To counter Iran and its proxies’ threats, the US has moved its USS Gerald Ford led Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12 into the Eastern Mediterranean and has deployed a second CSG led by the USS Eisenhower to the Mediterranean which is currently in the eastern Atlantic and is expected to enter the eastern Mediterranean in the next couple of days. The combined combat power of two US CSGs will provide Israel with overwhelming air superiority should the US enter into a conflict with Israel, with warnings already issued to Iran that the US will engage Iranian proxy forces. It is highly likely that Israel will delay a ground offensive until the USS Eisenhower is positioned in the eastern Mediterranean.
Expectations for Biden’s Visit to Israel
It is expected that Biden will discuss with Netanyahu the evacuation of civilians from the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing with Egypt. It is likely that Biden will demand that a humanitarian corridor is established before IDF forces enter Gaza, with Biden also forecasted to visit Egypt where he will likely use diplomatic pressure to demand the same from Egypt. It is likely that the IDF will want to commit forces sooner rather than later as any delay will afford Hamas and other militants to prepare defensive positions and mobilise forces. However, Israel is hugely dependent on US military aid which currently stands at approximately USD 4 billion per annum. It is unlikely that Israel has weapon stocks high enough to sustain military operations whilst maintaining enough weaponry to counter Hezbollah or deal with a wider conflict. Therefore, it is likely that Israel will have to submit to US requests in order to guarantee the delivery of future military aid and will not commit to a ground offensive until Biden has some reassurances from Tel Aviv.
Hezbollah, under orders from Iran will launch a pre-emptive attack on Israel prior to the arrival of President Biden. Such a move will provoke Israel into retaliating and committing to a ground offensive in Gaza before the Rafah crossing is opened and civilians are evacuated, causing an acute humanitarian crisis. This will undoubtedly provoke much international condemnation, resulting in anti-Israeli protests and rhetoric and potentially force the West to temper its support of Israel.
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Alert Plus: Jerusalem Explosions
On 23 November at around 07:00 to 07:30 local time, two explosions impacted the city of Jerusalem. Both explosions occurred at bus stops located in the Givat Shaul (stop ID: 647) and Ramot Junction (stop ID: 4009) entrances to the city. The geolocated site of the Givat Shaul explosion is situated less than 2km from the Knesset and Supreme Court, whilst the Ramot Junction explosion occurred close to the Ramot Alon Jewish settlement.
At least one person was killed and 17 people were injured during the first explosion at Givat Shaul, whilst the second explosion at the Ramot Junction injured a further five people and damaged a public bus located in the area. The Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah Mount Scopus Medical Center received injured persons from the twin explosions. The individual killed in the combined blasts has been identified as Aryeh Schopek, a 16-year-old Canadian citizen who lived in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem and attended a local yeshiva.
Initial reports indicate that two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) concealed in bags were responsible for the explosions. Both bags were left at bus stops during the busy hour of the early morning commute. Israeli police later confirmed that the explosions were being treated as a suspected combined terror attack conducted by a “Palestinian” individual or organisation. No independent verification of the claim of suspected Palestinian responsibility for the attack was immediately identifiable.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai confirmed that an investigation into the attack was underway and did not rule out the possibility of multiple suspects. New anti- terror measures were also announced in the aftermath of the attack, including the deployment of police officers with sniffer dogs to all buses in Jerusalem to search for any as-of-yet undiscovered IEDs. Road closures have also been implemented, including a suspension of incoming traffic along Highway One which connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid organised a national security meeting in Tel Aviv at 12:00 local time in response to the attack. Benjamin Netanyahu, the former and incoming prime minister, called for a “strengthening [of] the hands of the security forces” engaged in front-line anti-terror operations in the aftermath of the attack.
Solace Global Comment
Attacks on civilian infrastructure occur with some frequency in Israel, and buses have been targeted on multiple occasions over the past three decades. In 2022 alone, multiple terror attacks have occurred in Israeli territory, such as a mass shooting at a bus stop in Hadera in March, a mass stabbing and vehicle-ramming attack in Beersheba in March, a mass shooting in the Bnei Brak district of Tel Aviv in March, and a mass stabbing in El’ad in May. Palestinian and Islamist terror groups are often attributed with responsibility for many of these attacks, even when there is no official claim.
Though no group or organisation has claimed responsibility for the combined attack in Jerusalem, public attention has turned to Hamas. Mohammad Hamada, a Hamas spokesperson, issued a statement claiming that the “coming days will be intense and more difficult for the enemy” and that “the time has come for the creation of cells that are spread all over Palestine”. The discovery of an IED at the light rail tracks near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station during the evening hours of 22 November has raised concerns that the twin bomb blasts may have originally been intended as a triple, or even larger, attack. Further attacks remain likely in the short term.
At the time of writing, police reports indicate that the IEDs used by those responsible for the combined attack were packed with nails and likely remotely detonated. This method increases lethality despite the likely low-yield of the IEDs themselves, impacting civilians and surrounding infrastructure with metallic shrapnel. Security forces are certain to engage in an extensive investigation into the attack, and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) incursions into both Gaza and the West Bank are almost certain to occur in the short- term as Israeli authorities seek retribution for the terrorist incident. The explosions came as Netanyahu finalizes agreements with allies to form a new right- wing government that is set to include members of religious and far-right parties. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit political party and Netanyahu’s pick to be the next Minister of Public Security, visited the scene of the first attack and endorsed an aggressive response, calling for the government to “lay siege” to the culprits “even if it’s in the West Bank”. Ben-Gvir’s comments also endorsed house-to-house searches to locate those responsible for the attack with the intention of restoring the “deterrence power” of the Israeli government.
Solace Global Advice
- In the event of a terrorist attack those in the area are reminded to RUN – HIDE – TELL – FIGHT
- Israel has a high risk of terrorism. Further attacks remain likely in the short term, although the presence of additional security force personnel in Jerusalem will likely mitigate the risk of follow-on attacks in the immediate term
- Individuals with planned travel to Jerusalem are advised to reconfirm itineraries and expect localised travel disruption, particularly in the immediate vicinity of the incidents
- Travellers are advised to avoid the immediate vicinity of Givat Shaul and Ramot Junction as emergency services remain on the scene to conduct their investigations
- Further terror attacks in Jerusalem are likely to be indiscriminate, using explosives, bladed weapons, vehicles, and firearms to target crowded areas, government or security force installations and personnel, civilians, transportation networks, the Old City, and other high-profile locations including sites of religious significance
- Locations where large groups of residents or tourists are known to gather are at higher risk of attack. You should be particularly vigilant in these areas and follow any specific advice or guidance from the local authorities or security personnel
- Exercise increased caution, remain vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and report any suspicious activity or items to security personnel as soon as possible
- If caught in the vicinity of a security incident, seek immediate hard cover from any incoming gunfire or explosions and leave the area if safe to do so. Continue to adhere to all instructions issued by authorities and obey any security cordons in place
- Monitor the Solace Secure platform and trusted local media for updates