While Washington has gathered dozens of countries to form a maritime alliance against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, the Biden administration is still in dilemma how to deal with the challenge.
Last week, the United States announced of its plan to form a maritime alliance against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, and as of this Wednesday, 29 countries have joined the coalition. However, important countries such as Span, France, and Italy refused to the US demand and eight other countries have agreed to join the alliance under the condition of anonymity.
According to a statement by the Pentagon, the operations of the US new coalition “will be coordinated by the Combined Task Force 153 (CTF 153)”, which was established in April 2022 with the aim of improving the security of the Red Sea.
But despite the US determination to confront the Houthis, Joe Biden’s government has doubts and confusion regarding how to do it. And this dilemma emanates from two facts; First, the United States fears that restoring to military operations against Houthis will trigger Iran’s response and can therefore escalate tensions in the already-chaotic Middle East region. Second, and most importantly, Washington also faces pressure from two opposite directions, one from Israel and the other from Saudi Arabia on how to react to Houthi operations in the Red Sea.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Joe Biden last week that if the United States does not take military action against the Houthis, Israel will do it itself.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is asking Biden to show restraint, as it fears that the US attack on Houthis will frustrate the Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts to end the civil war in Yemen that has been going on since 2014. It should be noted that during the last two years, Saudi Arabia has shown more willingness to establish peace, end the war in Yemen, and pursue its economic goals in a more concentrated manner, and has also pursued peace negotiations with the Houthi leaders both in Riyadh and Sana’a.
The irony here is that if the Biden administration now acts in accordance with Netanyahu’s demand and decides to confront the Houthis with military action, it has actually wasted its recent efforts to establish peace between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. To shed more lights on the matter, the Biden government has put a lot of pressure on Saudi Arabia during recent months to declare a ceasefire and end the war in Yemen. Biden even removed the name of the Houthis from the US list of “terrorist organizations” to facilitate peace talks between the two sides of the years-long conflict.
Will the US maritime alliance succeed?
In addition to the above-mentioned obstacles that the Biden administration faces in how to deal with the Houthis, some inside the US are also complicating this puzzle by questioning Biden’s current strategy.
Some observers believe that the Biden administration should take more decisive measures to counter Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and that the creation of a recent naval coalition cannot be the final solution to this crisis.
Retired US Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., for example, criticized Biden’s maritime alliance and demanded a more forceful approach to deal with the Houthis’ threat.
“Unlike proxy forces such as Hezbollah and Hamas, a more decisive military response to Houthi provocations in Yemen does not seem to be a matter of doubt, which is considered as part of the rule of self-defense, and it will not necessarily lead to the escalation of tensions and significant Iranian interference,” McKenzie said, also noting that “the naval military coalition is not enough to repel the attacks of the Houthis, and more decisive offensive measures should be taken into consideration.”