The ongoing Israel-Hamas War is a conflict between Israel and Palestinian-backed organizations, primarily Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It was started on October 7, 2023, when Hamas initiated a comprehensive attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip involving land, sea, and air operations. The attack on October 7 caused over 1,200 deaths, predominantly among Israeli residents, marking it as the most lethal day for Israel since its establishment. Additionally, almost 240 individuals were held captive during the assault. On the following day, Israel officially announced that it was entering a state of war, marking the first time since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The conflict commenced with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) initiating aerial bombardments on the Gaza Strip, which were subsequently followed by the invasion of ground soldiers and armored vehicles several weeks later.
To date, more than twenty thousand civilians, including children, men, women, journalists, and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aid workers, have been martyred by the IDF. The war turned into another dimension and opened a new front on 19 November 2023, when Houthi rebels from Yemen captured an Israeli-affiliated cargo ship in a strategically important trade route in the Red Sea. The rebels have also taken 25 crew members captive. This incident has raised concerns that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas is now extending to the maritime domain. The Houthi rebels, allegedly supported by Iran, claimed responsibility for the seizure of the ship due to its association with Israel. They declared their intention to persistently target vessels in international seas that have connections to or are owned by Israelis until Israel concludes its military operation in Gaza. “All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis leader further added. For hijacking purposes, the Houthis are utilizing their strategic geographical location on the Red Sea near the Bab-al-Mandab strait, from where around 30% of the world trade passes.
From the first episode of hijacking on 19 November by Houthis till now, numerous activities have been happening in the Red Sea. Many cargo ships have been hijacked and targeted straight away by drone missiles from Yemeni rebel groups.
To cope with the situation, the United States of America came up with the idea to start Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) to halt the Houthis aggression in the Red Sea and deal with them with an iron fist. Operation Prosperity Guardian is a military action led by the US and a group of countries that came together in December 2023 to fight Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, announced the creation of an international maritime security force during a meeting. The goal of the force is to end the Houthi blockade of Israel in the Red Sea and counter threats by Houthi forces against international maritime trade going to or connected with Israel. Though more than twenty Nations showed their willingness to take part at first, it was only 10 nations who took concrete steps in initiating OPG, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Bahrain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Spain, and the United States.
In understanding the aims and objectives of Operation Prosperity Guardian, we need to know several things step-wise. First, we need to fully understand why there is a surge in attacks right now. The US blames Tehran for giving the Houthi every possible support in the shape of fighter weapons, organizing them, training them, and cheering them on. They say their attacks are in reaction to Israeli attacks on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but it’s more likely that they are looking for weak spots so that Iran can attack Western interests in the future. The strikes will probably also make oil prices go up, which will help Iran, and the West may put more pressure on Israel to stop attacking Gaza. This means the US and its allies might need to do more than send more warships on defense patrol. United States says, that to go on the offensive, we need to be ready to hit targets on land, maybe with Tomahawk missiles and attack planes from the USS Eisenhower, which is currently patrolling the Gulf of Oman. The law of war allows these kinds of attacks, and they should be fair, going after Houthi assets in the southern Arabian peninsula.
It would be right to attack Iran, especially its naval infrastructure in the north Indian Ocean and the Gulf, if this doesn’t stop the Houthis from doing what they’re doing.
Operation Prosperity Guardian requires a comprehensive and cohesive intelligence overview as a secondary component. The expanse of sea that maritime operators must cover is exceedingly extensive. The Red Sea, spanning from the Suez Canal to the Bab el Mandeb on the horn of Africa, has a comparable size to that of California. To encompass the remaining area of the North Arabian Sea and the entry points to the Red Sea, it would be necessary to include an additional portion approximately twice the size of Alaska. Even with a fleet of 20 warships deployed, which is already a substantial number for a maritime operation, it would still be comparable to 20 police cruisers attempting to monitor the United States Pacific Coast. The crucial aspect here is the implementation of extensive surveillance across a large geographical area. This can be achieved by utilizing satellite data and long-endurance drones operated by most participating nations. However, the crucial factor will be the synchronization and cooperation among the newly formed alliances: The entirety of this data must be inputted into the command center of the task force, which is likely to be located at the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet in Manama, Bahrain.
The US and coalition partners had significant experience in such collaboration during the peak of the Somali piracy operations, but it is acknowledged that the Houthis pose a much more challenging adversary.
The US should do everything possible to get more friends and allies. Although the Saudis aren’t officially part of Operation Prosperity Guardian yet, their many naval ports on the Red Sea make them a very important part of the group. The United Arab Emirates, also not on board yet, has strong fighters and good intelligence-gathering skills. The catch is that the two Gulf Arab countries have different ideas about how to deal with the Houthi problem. The UAE wants to use strong military force against the rebels, while Riyadh prefers a more cautious approach. Their current problem needs to be dealt with before they get into a fight. Lastly, the US must work with the business sector more closely since the targets are mostly commercial ships. The International Maritime Organization, which is part of the United Nations and has its headquarters in London, is the best way to work with the biggest shipping companies to do this. Maersk, MSC, and British Petroleum have all stopped doing business in the Red Sea. Ten years ago, when actions against piracy occurred, the IMO was a key place where private and public groups could work together. For example, security teams on board need to be thought about, and only the shipping companies can do that.
It will be hard to beat Houthi rebels, who are well-trained and well-armed and are being allegedly supported by Iran. In a recent statement, Houthis officials warned the US and said, “We have capabilities to sink your fleet, your submarines, your warships,” and do remember, “The Red Sea will be your graveyard.” Now it’s on how the US and her allies handle the situation and what action they will take to make Operation Prosperity Guardian more successful.