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Ebrahim Hashem: Roots of Red Sea crisis lie in Israel's Gaza brutality

Reality Check

 , Updated 18:23, 27-Jan-2024

Editor's note: On January 23, Britain confirmed in a joint statement that 24 countries, including the United States, Germany and Australia, conducted additional strikes against eight targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, a day earlier. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also warned that there could be further bombing of Yemen if Houthi attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea continue. The Houthis claim that their assaults are in solidarity with Palestinians amid Israel's continued offensive in Gaza. These attacks have caused disruptions in global shipping, heightening concerns that the repercussions of the Israel-Hamas conflict could destabilize the Middle East, impacting global geopolitics and the economy. To delve into the intricacies of the Red Sea crisis, CGTN's Sr. International Editor Abhishek G. Bhaya spoke with Ebrahim Hashem, an Emirati Strategist and Asia Global Fellow at Hong Kong University's Asia Global Institute. The views expressed in the video are his own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Edited excerpts:

CGTN: What's your take on the latest airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen carried out by the U.S., UK and their allies?

Ebrahim Hashem: This is a long story. It did not really start on January 12, when the [first] attacks against the Houthis took place. It did not even start on October 7, when the Palestinians attacked Israel. It started basically in 1948 when Israel was established as a state in our region, and since then the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land has been a major issue.

Before we talk about the attacks against the Houthis, we have to really link these attacks with what's happening in Palestine, especially since October 7. The Israeli army has been bombarding and committing massacres, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. And since then, the whole region has been really furious about the practices and the war crimes against the Palestinians committed by the Israelis.

The Houthi attacks against the ships in the Red Sea around the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, in their words, [are] basically in retaliation or in solidarity with the Palestinians. They are demanding that these atrocities being committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinians stop and the humanitarian aid that is not really flowing smoothly to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should be allowed to just move in. So, there's a direct link between what's happening in the Red Sea around Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and what's happening in Gaza.

CGTN:  From an international law perspective, and under UN conventions, how do you assess the legality of the U.S. and the UK and their allies' strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen?

Ebrahim Hashem: Actually, these attacks against the Houthis raise more questions than answers. So, when the Americans and the British launched attacks against the Houthis, they are are not really an army. They do not have well-defined army bases. They do not have tanks or airplanes.

What they are actually doing [is] to disrupt the freedom of shipping, the freedom of operations in the Red Sea, is basically, they're launching attacks, militia attacks, guerrilla type of attacks, using drones and missiles. And these missile launchers are not really fixed in one place. They are mobile and the launchers are mobile and they are hidden, concealed from the eyes of the world.

So, with these attacks by the Americans and the British, one wonders whether they will be effective and whether they are going to eliminate the root causes of the problem. And thrse root causes are not really located in Yemen. They are located in Gaza. They are located in the West Bank. What's happening in Gaza is basically causing the Houthis to launch all these attacks.

As far as the legality and international law, when the [UN] Security Council met on January 10 to discuss the disruptions in the Red Sea and around Bab-el-Mandeb, the members of the Security Council managed to issue a resolution. That resolution condemned these Houthi attacks against international ships going through the Red Sea and going through Bab-el-Mandeb. But that resolution did not really give open authorization to go and attack the Houthis.

But there was a very interesting item within the resolution draft that talks about the United Nations (Convention on the) Law of the Sea. There's an item there that highlights the possibility of actually using force against anybody that disrupts international trade in the sea anywhere. So basically, possibly the Americans and the British are using this part of the law to launch these attacks against the Houthis.

CGTN: Can you explain briefly the importance of the Red Sea shipping lanes to the global economy, and what economic consequences can be anticipated due to disruptions in the Red Sea shipping routes?

Ebrahim Hashem: If we just look at the Red Sea and the maritime route of the Red Sea, so you have the Suez Canal, and then down to the Red Sea and then down to Bab-al-Mandeb and then out to the Gulf of Aden and then the Arabian Sea and then you have the Indian Ocean.

Through this route, you have more than 20 percent of international container traffic come and go every day; and around 15 percent of the entire global trade goes through it; and around 12 percent of the maritime crude oil and 8 percent of LNG (liquefied natural gas) goes through it. So, this is really critically important.

And then if you just really look at individual countries – India and China – around 80 percent of India's trade that goes to Europe goes through the Red Sea, and then for China, it's around 60 percent. So, this is a very, very important maritime trade lane and that has to be really, really protected and secured.

When the British and the American forces launched attacks against Houthis in Yemen, there was a spike of around 2.5 percent in oil prices. And of course, if you have a spike in oil prices, that will have a domino effect on the prices of the rest of the products.

And as you know, when the pandemic happened, and there were disruptions in the global supply chains, there was an increase of one percentage in global inflation and a lot of people now are afraid that something similar might happen if this whole saga continued.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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