Hit on Iranian Surveillance Ship Appears To Slow Houthis’ Red Sea Attacks

As attacks ramp up again, much more military effort will be needed to return the essential maritime artery to full function.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the U.S. strikes on Yemen, outside Sanaa, January 22, 2024. AP

In an apparent sign of American success, the Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea have temporarily slowed down in the aftermath of a reported cyberattack on an Iranian spy ship. Yet, as attacks inevitably resume, much more military effort will be needed to return the essential maritime artery to full function. 

The cyberattack targeted the Behshad, a cargo ship repurposed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to serve as its eyes and ears in the region. The attack was “intended to inhibit the Iranian ship’s ability to share intelligence with Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been firing missiles and drones at cargo ships in the Red Sea,” NBC News quoted an unidentified Washington official as saying. 

According to the Thursday report, the cyberattack occurred more than a week ago. While Houthi strikes on Red Sea ships briefly slowed, they resumed later this week. British forces near Yemeni shores reported an explosion on a ship near their vessel Friday and American and other naval forces intercepted incoming missiles on Wednesday and Thursday. 

“The slowdown was either because the Behshad was offline, or because the U.S. has been degrading the Houthi stockpiles,” the policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, Jason Brodsky, told the Sun. He noted that while the damage to the IRGC spy ship is difficult to assess, it may well be repairable. “In my view we should have sunk the Behshad,” he said.    

Yet, President Biden’s approach to any military action, and especially in the Mideast skirmishes since October 7, has been to stop just short of what he and his administration officials define as “escalation.” A little-noticed cyberattack on a ship loaded with sophisticated electronic equipment could damage the IRGC and the Houthis’ capabilities; it is unlikely to cause major Iranian retaliation.

Losing the ship altogether, on the other hand, could have forced the IRGC to directly attack American assets. It would be difficult for the Islamic Republic to save face after its ubiquitous warning in early February that anyone “engaging in terrorist activities against the MV Behshad or similar vessels” will be responsible for “future international risks.”  

The Behshad has long been suspected of directing the Hothi attacks that have all but stopped commercial ship movement in the Red Sea, where more than 15 percent of the world’s commerce travels. Another IRGC ship, the Saviz, has similarly loitered for a long time near Yemeni shores. It is unclear where it is now, but it, and other Iranian assets, remain intact. The Houthis have recently added killer drones to their Iranian-supplied arms designed for attack on ships.   

Longer shipping routes, as containers are forced to travel around the Horn of Africa instead of the Suez Canal, are hitting European and Asian countries — including, most notably, India — more than America. Yet, if the disruption lasts for a full year, it could add 2 percent to inflation rates here as well, according to some estimates. 

The reported attack on the Behshad is a step in the rough direction, but it is hardly a solution for the violence the Houthis and their puppet master are inflicting on world trade. “It is not going to deter Iran,” Mr. Brodsky says. “For them, it is a mere inconvenience.”

The New York Sun

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