The Houthi rebels’ offensive in Yemen was highly predictable attacks when one considers that in 2015 the Houthi rebels occupied the island of Permin, in the middle of the Bab el Mandeb strait (only 18 miles wide), and before being driven out of it by Saudi Arabia, seized an oil tanker declaring their Yemeni sovereignty over the Bab el Mandeb strait. Today, the island has become an advanced military and air base for anti-Houthi forces.
According to the monitoring activity carried out by the Giuseppe Bono Centre on Maritime scenarios, risks arising from the blockade of the fourth busiest sea route in the world have so far focused on the flow of goods and in particular containers through the Red Sea and therefore the Suez Canal; but this scenario might evolve very quickly then involving directly the transport of energy on the surface but also in pipelines and submarine infrastructure.
A closer look at what is happening in the Red Sea reveals two decisive elements on the energy front: apart from the case of a Norwegian oil tanker, oil traffic in the Red Sea seems to enjoy a kind of pass from the Houthis. And many Middle Eastern analysts think that this may reflect Iran’s intention to avoid an escalation of the conflict that would be inevitable if the oil traffic (a quarter of the world’s traffic transits through Bab el Mandeb) were hit. Not only that. For high quality Iranian oil, the benefit of an in any case inevitable increase in quotations (if only for the war risk insurance premiums) is a real advantage, especially as far as exports to China are concerned.
It is no coincidence that the average number of oil tankers transiting the missile and drone risk zone is virtually unchanged from the 2023 averages, but also that the only tankers diverted on the Africa circumnavigation route are all operated directly or indirectly by American or Israeli interests.
Still according to the results of the ongoing analysis carried out by the Giuseppe Bono Centre, if the million barrels of crude oil in transit in the area at risk should not be impacted by the actions of the Houthi rebels, the impact on gas traffic seems to be quite different, in particular that of Qatar, but also on the trans-Arab pipeline to the Red Sea port of Yanbu. According to ‘intelligence’ it is no coincidence that also the gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel ceased to operate and, therefore, to guarantee supplies to Egypt just a few hours after the start of the Gaza operation. And the same destiny hit the oil pipeline between Eilat on the Red Sea and Ashdod on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. A pipeline that (ironically) was built by an Israeli-Iranian joint venture before Ayatollah Khomeini came to power.
The comparison between the current analyses, carried out by different research organisations and subjects, raises two further questions: the first is about the recent blockage of Suez caused by the container ship Ever Given: was it really caused by a sandstorm or by human error? Or by a cyber-attack?
And speaking of cyber-attacks, the alert level on all submarine infrastructures in the Mediterranean has been steadily rising for weeks now?
Source: Giuseppe Bono Centre