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Saudi Reporting Regarding WBIED Threat Against Commercial Vessels Within Red Sea

Reports from Saudi sources indicate that naval units associated with the Saudi-led coalition currently operating in Yemen have prevented an attempted attack upon commercial vessels in the Southern Red Sea/Bab-El-Mandeb Strait. The Saudi reports state that the attempted attack was conducted by Houthi militias, who are currently operating primarily within the port of Hodeida, West Yemen. Houthi forces are also strongly linked to Iran, who are believed to have financed the group, as well as providing material support for their activities. The attempted attack is alleged to have utilised an unmanned vessel carrying an explosive payload.

Despite a Saudi insistence that this event has occurred, a Saudi-led coalition spokesman, Colonel Turki al-Malki, was unable to provide further details regarding the incident. In turn, Houthi spokesmen have strongly denied the claims, referring to them as ‘pure slander’. It is the assessment of Dryad that there is currently no wider evidence to corroborate and confirm these reports and therefor the risks remain unchanged within this region.

Due to the ongoing proxy war being fought regionally between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it does remain likely that Iran would increase its targeting of US and Saudi interests. However it does not necessarily favour Iran to create geopolitical disruption at two chokepoints, the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait, within the space of a month. Additionally, Saudi Arabia continues to hold an Iranian tanker that had required assistance in the Red Sea following technical difficulties. Iran is also currently facing deep economic pressure due to US-led sanctions, and is currently attempting to reassert itself on the world stage following two alleged attacks on commercial vessels within the Strait of Hormuz in recent months. A realistic possibility is that Saudi Arabia is attempting to maintain the momentum of stories linking Iran to the disruption commercial vessels and interests in the region in order to further heighten international consensus against Iran. Furthermore an incident of this type fits the Saudi narrative, especially at a time when their coalition partner, the UAE, has announced its recent withdrawal from Yemen.

However, a pattern of behaviour by Houthi forces does persist, and prior attacks on vessels in the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait have occurred, most notably in September of 2018. Crucially however in this instance Saudi sources were quick to release pictures and evidence of the attack. This context underlines Dryad’s current assessment of fictitious reporting of the situation. It remains a realistic possibility that Houthi units could use unmanned vessels, in line with prior incidents, to target commercial vessels off the coast of Yemen. However, there is a significant lack of evidence to suggest that this is a current resource available to Houthi rebels as well as matching their wider intent within Yemen. It is prudent to remain sceptical of such claims, especially when they fall within the context of a broader regional dispute.
Source: Dryad Global

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