¿Cuál es la razón por la falta de contraataque de Estados Unidos luego de los ataques a buques en el Mar Rojo?

Why the United States hasn’t retaliated against the Houthis after repeated maritime attacks off the coast of Yemen is a question many people are asking. It’s definitely a fair question, and the answer is not as straightforward as some would like to make it out to be. Let’s dig in.

One predominant viewpoint is that the Houthis “only understand force” and that the United States needs to strike back. Some argue this should have happened after the first ship attacks, but definitely now. However, the scope of “striking back” includes an enormous spectrum of potential responses. These range from reactionary and proportional responses to much broader and extended campaigns, with various speeds of escalation that can overlap with such operations. This is far from a routine call to make, and one unrecognizable in respect to the way things have unfolded in the U.S. And the U.S. military has been involved in Yemen, off and on; besides, the American military has provided other forms of support to the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in the past. Therefore, clear precedence exists for some sort of military response.

Simultaneously, though the current circumstances are certainly different from those of the past and are dramatically more complex, with potentially much wider-reaching consequences. The entire region teeters on the brink, with Iran and its representatives in Lebanon’s Hezbollah yet to fully enter the fray between Israel and Hamas, but that possibility still exists. Attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria are also a virtual daily occurrence. Only the Houthis have the capability to greatly ratchet up attacks against U.S. forces in the region, but we will come to that later.

In short, a major spark could set off a much bigger blaze that could be very hard to contain. On one hand, it could be argued that a kinetic response is what the Houthis and their Iranian backers desperately want. It’s highly likely they want to directly involve the United States and entangle it in an aspect of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Also, as previously noted, the Houthis have repeatedly directly attacked Israel, but the Israeli Defense Forces haven’t done anything about it. It’s totally within the Israeli Air Force’s capability to strike Houthi targets, too, but they hold back after scores of attempted attacks. And yes, they have a lot on their hands, but they have the ability to respond, and they’re not just using it. U.S. persuasion might be a factor in the decision, but the fact is, between the U.S. Navy’s chokepoint control operations in the Red Sea and Israel’s advanced air defense umbrella, those attacks have been wholly impotent: a waste of ordnance.

The much closer to Yemen’s shores attacks against helpless vessels are a whole other story. The United States could certainly take out the Houthi’s military capabilities. There are plenty of assets in the region for that to become a reality, but it would heighten risks and could rapidly expand the crisis.

For years, the Houthis have been beefing up their arsenal, significantly evolving it over a decade-long conflict with the Saudi-led coalition. A critical U.S. installation is right across the strait, less than 100 miles from Yemen, in the form of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. This expanding and ever-growing base occupying the southern half of Djibouti’s international airport is where much of U.S. operations in and around Yemen has historically been based.

Are U.S. prepared to achieve and for what purpose? What do retaliatory strikes to the U.S. really offer? Credibility? General deterrence? Does it work like that for those really firing the weapons? Does intelligence say a kinetic operation will dissuade future Houthi actions? Otherwise, the United States has opened the door to a whole series of questions and commitments that could have been closed if a longer and sturdier defensive game had been played.

Why does this job even fall in the first place to the United States? Why should safeguarding maritime transport through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait be the responsibility of the U.S. Navy and American taxpayers? These are also fair questions, but in general terms, the U.S. Navy’s mission is to maintain shipping lanes open, but Greater consequences lie with regional actors, especially Egypt, which has the most to lose here.

Egypt gains nearly $10 billion annually in Canal operations income, and the Suez Canal Authority’s president Osama Rabie has announced the canal’s 2022-23 fiscal year record annual revenues. If Bab el-Mandeb heats up too much to transit, which several major shippers already consider it to be, what will they do to open it up? Saudi Arabia is another key actor with a major interest in keeping the Red Sea navigable. They have been fighting the Houthis for many years, but that conflict has become a costly effort, and the Kingdom has been eager to break free from it, as well as mending ties with regional rival Iran.

This is where an international coalition could be crucial. Set to be announced as part of that effort this week by the U.S. military, the upcoming Operation will distribute responsibilities and costs, and provide an actual power front against the actions of the Houthis.

China also sits on the Djibouti base and has actively participated in counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and off the Horn of Africa. But becoming part of such coalition? I cannot see that happening. However, it will create a geopolitically interesting situation.

These are some thoughts on the current situation and why “striking back” is a more complex choice than it might seem. At the same time, the situation is evolving relatively rapidly, and it’s evident that things are about to change. There will soon be more naval assets in the region as part of a new maritime security operation. The question of whether that will include kinetic actions or not will likely be answered soon.