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Middle East expert: Houthi attacks on merchant ships continuation of Gaza war

Helga Kalm.
Helga Kalm. Source: ERR

The Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea should be seen as a continuation of the war between Israel and Hamas, Middle East expert Helga Kalm told ETV's "Ringvaade" program. There is a risk of further escalation of the conflict in the region, she said.

"What is happening in the Red Sea is an extension or a continuation of the war between Israel and Hamas," Kalm said.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have been shooting missiles into the Red Sea and taking cargo ships hostage since mid-November.

The United States and Britain launched military strikes against targets in Houthi-controled Yemen last week.

Yemen's Houthi militants vowed Friday to continue targeting ships in the Red Sea to protest Israel's military activity in the Gaza Strip.

"Also today, a U.S.-owned cargo ship was hit by a missile [fired from Yemen], but fortunately not too badly, the ship is able to continue on its way," Kalm said.

Kalm said the Houthis are primarily funded and armed by Iran. "They are part of the so-called Iranian axis of resistance, which consists of Hamas, the Houthis, Iran itself, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and some isolated groups in Iraq and Syria," she said.

The intervention of the coalition led by the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Kalm, is important from a trade perspective.

"A major part of the trade between Asia and Europe, as well as Asia and North America, runs through the Red Sea; so the dangers cargo ships face in that region complicate matters. Several companies have begun to circumnavigate the Red Sea via the tip of South Africa instead, an additional 4,000 nautical miles and accompanying it increase in fuel consumption. Also, the duration of a ship's trip is extended by about 10 days. Trade consequences have already become evident, as in the suspension of some manufacturing facilities in Europe by Tesla and Volvo due to delayed deliveries of critical components. This can set off a chain reaction in the trade, resulting in delayed completion of tasks, supply issues, and so forth," she said.

The Houthis claim they attack vessels that are bringing goods to Israel, in retaliation for Israel's military activity in Gaza, but their targets are often merchant ships not related to Israel.

Kalm said there is a risk that other countries, such as Iran and its allies, would attack a U.S. base in Iraq or elsewhere. "Then it could spread like wildfire, the risks are there," she said.

Helga Kalm, the director of the Lennart Meri Conference, previously served as director of the NATO and security policy department at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as a political adviser at the Estonian embassy in Washington, DC.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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