Understanding the Significance of the Houthi’s Announcement of ‘Submarine Weapons’ in Red Sea Attacks – The Arab Wall
Understanding the Significance of the Houthi’s Announcement of ‘Submarine Weapons’ in Red Sea Attacks

Understanding the Significance of the Houthi’s Announcement of ‘Submarine Weapons’ in Red Sea Attacks

The announcement made by the militia leader regarding the forthcoming introduction of submarine weaponry in their operations carries several significant implications. Among these, the most prominent include showcasing the advanced military capabilities of the Houthi militia, enhancing their operations against Western warships in the Red Sea, causing confusion among US forces, diverting America’s attention to the underwater threat to reduce airstrikes on Yemen, Iran’s commitment to ensuring the success of Houthi battles against the US in the Red Sea, and undermining the effectiveness of the US classification of the militia as a “terrorist group.”

The leader of the militia, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, issued this threat in a televised speech on February 22, 2024, indicating a potential escalation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in response to Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. He vowed to employ unmanned submarines in attacks on Israeli, American, and British ships, asserting, “We have introduced submarine weapons into the confrontation in the Red Sea, which is a weapon that worries the enemy.” This announcement raises questions about the implications of this new threat to maritime navigation.

It’s important to highlight that unmanned submarines are robotic systems designed to operate underwater autonomously, meaning they function without human intervention, such as a captain. These submarines serve various purposes, from conducting scientific research to carrying out military and security missions. They come equipped with sensors, positioning systems, and navigation systems, allowing them to be programmed for long-distance sea travel. Notably, they often prove challenging to detect or target underwater.

According to Mike Mulroy, a national security and defense analyst at ABC News, a former Pentagon official, and a CIA agent, detecting and destroying unmanned underwater vehicles or surface vessels is notably more challenging than detecting drones and anti-ship missiles.

Multiple Implications

In light of the preceding, it can be said that the announcement by the leader of the Houthi militia regarding the use of “unmanned submarines” in their attacks on ships carries several implications that can be elucidated as follows:

1. Demonstrating the Advanced Military Capabilities of the Houthi Militia: The leader of the rebel group aims to showcase the advanced military weaponry possessed by the Houthi militia and its capacity to alter the course of events in its favor through the announcement of “submarine weapons.” This communicates a message that despite the ten-year Yemeni war and ongoing Western airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, the group has made strides in developing its military capabilities. They assert possession not only of missiles, drones, and military boats but also unmanned submarines for maritime operations. Subsequent to the militia leader’s announcement, Houthi officials and media outlets released several images of submarines, one of which was named “Avenger,” reflecting the current situation in the region.

It’s noteworthy that the Houthi militia acquired weapons from the Yemeni army upon seizing control of the capital, Sana’a, and its surrounding areas. Subsequently, they commenced the production of missiles, armored vehicles, and drones. This effort is supplemented by continuous Iranian support in their development endeavors and the provision of necessary manufacturing tools. Several American intelligence reports have previously disclosed the militia’s possession of long-range drones, manufactured in Iran, capable of striking targets up to 1500 miles away. Additionally, they maintain a stockpile of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, including the “Storm” anti-ship ballistic missile, which has been launched at various targets in the Red Sea.

2. Enhancing Houthi Operations Against Western Warships in the Red Sea: The rebel group seeks to bolster its attacks on ships, whether in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, or the Gulf of Aden, by introducing new weaponry. This move is particularly aimed at intensifying operations against Israeli, American, and British vessels. The objective is twofold: to pressure these nations into halting Western airstrikes on Houthi targets and to cease Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip, while also impacting the economies of these countries.

This rationale elucidates why the militia leader, in a recent speech, announced the targeting of various ships in the Arabian and Red Seas until February 22 of the previous year. He reported that the forces launched 183 missiles and drones at Israeli targets, indicating a significant escalation in both quantity and type of operations. The deployment of missiles, drones, and military boats led to the disruption of 40% of the enemy’s maritime trade movement, affecting its economy by causing a decline in exports and imports.

3. Generating Confusion Among US Forces: The introduction of a new advanced weapon such as the “unmanned submarines” by the Houthis undoubtedly has the potential to sow confusion among US forces, a desired outcome for the group. Hence, the militia leader’s announcement regarding this weapon came shortly after a statement by the US Central Command “CENTCOM” on February 19 of the preceding year, highlighting the “first significant thwarting by US forces of the Houthis’ use of an unmanned underwater vessel (UUV) since the start of attacks last October.” This indicates that it was the first instance US forces had observed the Houthis utilizing an underwater unmanned vessel since their attacks on commercial ships passing through the Red Sea commenced on October 23 of the prior year. Consequently, the introduction of these submarines by the militia may exacerbate the complexities of the confrontation between US forces and the Houthis, as detecting unmanned submarines proves significantly more challenging than detecting drones.

4. Diverting American Attention with the Underwater Threat to Decrease Airstrikes on Yemen: The official announcement by the Houthis regarding their possession of submarine weapons and their intent to employ them in future ship attacks signifies the militia’s aim to apply greater pressure on America. Their objective is to divert US attention by compelling it to focus on detecting these unmanned submarines and devising what might be termed “remote defense strategies” to counter them. Equipped with GPS precision targeting capabilities, these submarines pose a significant threat to stationary or slow-moving ships, particularly those navigating the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a critical waterway prone to congestion. The Houthis anticipate that this tactic will contribute to either halting or at least reducing the frequency of American airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.

5. Iran’s Determination to Ensure Houthi Success in Battles Against America in the Red Sea: Since the Houthi announcement regarding “submarine weapons,” many observers speculate that Iran is the primary source of this weaponry. This speculation stems from previous announcements by the US Central Command “CENTCOM” in January and mid-February 2024, where it disclosed the seizure of a shipment of advanced conventional weapons and other lethal aid from Iran bound for Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen. Intercepted aboard a vessel in the Arabian Sea, the shipment contained over 200 packages, including missile components, explosives, and submarine parts. Consequently, CENTCOM Commander Michael Eric Corrilla remarked, “Iran’s continued malicious activity in supplying the Houthis with advanced conventional weapons continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce.”

Iran’s provision of submarine weapons, alongside its expertise in developing suicide drone boats, to its proxy in Yemen underscores Tehran’s urgency in devising a new strategy to target American naval vessels. This Iranian initiative aims to possess a potent “card of power and pressure” for employment in future negotiations or discussions with Washington, while simultaneously mitigating the impact of American defensive strikes against the Houthis. Tehran recognizes that the successful deployment of these weapons to penetrate American naval defenses and cause casualties could significantly alter the “balance of power in the region.”

6. Diminishing the Impact of the American Classification of the Militia as a “Terrorist Group”: The announcement of a new weapon serves as an indirect response from the rebel group to America’s recent decision to designate them as a “terrorist organization,” effective since February 17 of the current year. This decision followed a month after Washington granted the rebel group a one-month period to halt their attacks on ships, in exchange for reconsidering the classification. However, the group refused to comply, insisting on continuing their assaults on Israeli vessels until the blockade is lifted and the Israeli offensive in Gaza ceases. Consequently, the Houthis aim to convey that their terrorist classification will not impede their development of military capabilities or hinder their use of advanced weaponry to repel any Western incursions into Yemen.

Pressure Tactics

In essence, the Houthi militia aims to heighten pressure on both regional and international fronts by threatening to employ “unmanned submarines” in their ship attacks within the Red Sea. This strategy is designed to bolster their bargaining position in future negotiations, particularly regarding the resolution of the Yemeni crisis, as such escalations carry implications for the entire region. Consequently, it could prompt intervention from certain regional actors, notably those within the Arab coalition, who may demand Iran cease supplying these advanced weapons to the Houthi militia to prevent further destabilization of regional security and stability.

Meanwhile, Washington may pursue dual approaches: one diplomatic, involving efforts to ramp up pressure on the militia to cease their attacks through its special envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, and another military, entailing heightened surveillance of Houthi forces’ movements and activities both within and beyond Yemen.