Predictably, the US/UK military coalition that attacked Houthi forces twelve days ago has been in action again. ‘Predictably’ because the initial strike was always unlikely to dismantle the Houthis now extensive capacity to attack shipping in the Red Sea. But, more importantly, because it is currently in their interests to keep up the belligerence, as it is very much in the interests of their main backer: Iran. And not just Iran.
Those questioning the financial wisdom of using high-tech western missiles costing millions to defeat rudimentary rockets and drones costing thousands aren’t quite drawing the right equation. If a million-dollar missile saves a billion-dollar ship then it is worth it – and global commerce, the world’s economic life-force, requires the Suez Canal to be kept open. But that is to cost the tactical battle not the enduring strategic confrontation, where the picture is more alarming.
Those first strikes included eighty US Tomahawk cruise missiles costing around $1.5 million each. More were used in subsequent US attacks that now number, including last night’s attacks, eight separate strike packages in less than a fortnight. No wonder US congressmen and the US navy are now lobbying the Hill hard for more money for missiles. This is money that cannot go to Ukraine, preparing Taiwan’s defences as part of the general increase in readiness in the Indo-Pacific theatre, nor countering Iran directly – all of which are genuine strategic concerns.
So, no wonder that Khamenei, Putin and Xi are happy to see such resource being expended on the relatively backwater country of Yemen, and the seemingly indestructible force that is the Houthi movement. This is why I posed the question of what the Coalition will do next in my last Spectator article. Can it continue indefinitely spending small fortunes on a series of irritate swats that do not alter the strategic balance, indeed when this might make it worse?
The coalition has now staked much credibility on its ability to control the situation in the Red Sea, and so it cannot walk away.