The Yemenis Know the U.S. Is Bluffing… Here’s Why

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America knows the Yemenis are a people that are fearless and are not bluffing. While, on the other hand, the Yemenis know the Americans are bluffing.

The United States has this week announced a multinational navy task force to counter Yemen’s blockade of the Red Sea. The U.S. also warned it is prepared to hit the Arab country with military strikes in retaliation.

The stakes are high. The Yemenis have the vital Red Sea global shipping route under their command from controlling the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait that flows out to the Indian Ocean. The impact of closing this chokepoint on global trade is eye-watering. Hence the Americans and their European allies have sprung into action with threats of retaliation.

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In response, the Yemeni armed forces in alliance with the Houthi rebel movement told the Americans to shove it.

The Yemenis warned that they have ballistic missiles to sink any warship or submarine that the U.S. and its allies deploy in the region. The Yemenis added they will continue blocking cargo vessels using the Red Sea route until the genocide in Gaza stops.

Over the past week, Yemen has stepped up its interdiction of cargo ships attempting to transit the Red Sea route. Several major shipping conglomerates have confirmed their vessels are being re-routed around the African continent. The additional transport costs and disruption to supply chains are already hiking price inflation in Western economies, adding to already painful economic woes and political damage for governments held in contempt by hard-pressed populations.

The Yemenis say they are only targeting Israeli-linked ships but it seems that the deterioration in security conditions in the narrow maritime corridor is deterring all shipping companies. The Bab el-Mandeb strait is 32-kilometers wide straddling Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Hundreds of container ships and oil tankers pass through the strait on any given day, ferrying cargo from Asia to Europe through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the other chokepoint further north in Egypt. If one chokepoint closes, the whole route is closed.

The United States has sought to frame the navy task force as a policing operation to protect international commerce and freedom of navigation.

The Yemenis, however, have said their disruption of Israeli-affiliated shipping is a legitimate action in solidarity with Palestinians.

U.S. Secretary of State Lloyd Austin in announcing the new naval coalition, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, stated. “The recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen threatens the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners, and violates international law. The Red Sea is a critical waterway that has been essential to freedom of navigation and a major commercial corridor that facilitates international trade. Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor launching ballistic missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) at merchant vessels from many nations lawfully transiting international waters.”

In response, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, said: “The American-formed coalition is to protect Israel and militarize the Red Sea without any justification, and will not stop Yemen from continuing its legitimate operations in support of Gaza. We are not making a show of force against anyone [except Israel]. Whoever seeks to expand the conflict must bear the consequences of his actions.”

The Americans are trying to make out that the Yemenis are acting like criminal sea pirates and the U.S.-led task force is nobly serving in the interests of international commerce and peaceful navigation.

Washington and its allies cannot publicly admit that their actions are in support of Israel. The genocidal offensive on Gaza since October 7 in which nearly 20,000 civilians have been murdered is politically untenable for Israel’s Western allies.

The naval task force launched by the U.S. this week includes nine other nations: Britain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, as well as the Seychelles and Bahrain. The latter two are token non-Western parties to give the image that this is not overtly a Western imperialist coalition. Bahrain is where the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet is based in the Persian Gulf, so it makes sense that the tiny monarchy has to be included in simple logistics.

However, the salient thing is that there are no other Gulf Arab nations involved in the task force. Egypt is also absent even though it is a major Red Sea coastal nation as is Saudi Arabia. Their absence belies the official U.S. rationale. If Operation Prosperity Guardian were really about protecting commerce and international shipping then why aren’t Red Sea Arab states joining up? Of course, they are not, because the real purpose of the task force is to aid Israel.

The acute but unspoken conundrum is if Arab states were to join the U.S.-led naval force then it would be politically fatal for the rulers of these states. They would be seen by their populations as supporting the Western-backed Israeli aggression and genocide of Palestinians. That would make America’s Arab allies unstable from internal revolt and perhaps even risk their total collapse. The Arab pillars of the U.S. empire are at risk of falling.

If the Saudis and Egyptians were patrolling the Red Sea with American warships, the Yemenis would be sure to fire missiles at Riyadh and Cairo in retaliation. After all, the Yemenis fought an eight-year with Saudi Arabia from 2015 when the Saudis were militarily supported by the U.S., Britain and France. The Yemenis were undefeated and the Saudis were forced into making a shaky truce over the past year. The Saudis reportedly don’t want to slide back into a war with Yemen that was financially ruinous for the Saudis.

U.S. President Joe Biden is facing a tight reelection contest in less than 11 months. Polls show him losing to Republican contender Donald Trump. That’s a sign of how deeply unpopular Biden is.

The last thing Biden wants is to torpedo his electoral chances by starting a broader war in the Middle East involving U.S. forces directly. Especially if the Yemenis begin sending U.S. warships to the bottom of the Red Sea or Indian Ocean.

If the U.S. were to seriously retaliate against the Yemenis, the conflict would likely escalate with Iran entering the fray in support of their ally Yemen.

That’s why, as this AP report notes, the Pentagon is curiously dancing on a pinhead over the Red Sea. Washington is huffing and puffing, trying to talk tough but ultimately hesitant to use its firepower. The U.S. has an aircraft carrier, USS Dwight Eisenhower, in the Gulf of Aden next to Yemen. But for some reason, it has kept a distance from the marauding Yemeni vessels.

The Yemenis know they have a just cause morally and legally to help Palestinians against the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide. The battle-hardened Yemenis also have demonstrated the courage and resilience against a Western-backed Saudi war of aggression.

Washington knows the Yemenis are a people that are fearless and are not bluffing. While, on the other hand, the Yemenis know the Americans are bluffing.

Bab el-Mandeb translates as “the gateway of tears”. The Americans and their duplicitous allies will be the ones shedding the tears.

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