Imagery released by US Central Command shows what the command says was a deadly attack by the Houthis on a Liberian-owned vessel on March 6, 2024. (US Central Command)

BEIRUT — Attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi group in the Red Sea have affected the interests of 65 countries and 29 major energy and shipping firms, according to a new report issued by the US Defense Intelligence Agency today.

The Yemen-based group publicly has said it is targeting Israel-linked ships in response to Jerusalem’s strikes in Gaza, but the report says “many of their attacks […] have been against civilian ships with either tenuous or no known Israeli affiliations or port calls.” The report says dozens of countries have been caught in the crossfire, including the United States, Britain, Turkey, Russia, China, Qatar and the Houthis main purported benefactor, Iran.

Since 2023, the group has used missile, drone and even unmanned surface vessels to attack commercial shipping in the vital Middle Eastern shipping lane.

The report said that “despite seeking international legitimacy, Houthi actions have damaged regional security, impeded international humanitarian relief efforts, and put stress on global maritime trade.”

In December 2023, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multi-national iniatitive to defend commercial vessels that includes knocking threats out of the sky and water. The US and Britain, meanwhile, have actively targeted Houthi facilities in infrastructure in Yemen for direct strikes. There’s also the European Union’s defensive iniative, dubbed Aspides. But the attacks have continued.

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The attacks also affected trade and shipping lanes, and 29 major shipping and energy companies had to alter their routes to these attacks and have seen a jump in insurance costs, according to the report. Ships have been presented with a bitter choice: Either to sail the Suez Canal-Red Sea-Bab El Mandeb Strait route under threat of a fatal incident, or reroute through Gibraltar all around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope.

“Alternate shipping routes around Africa add about 11,000 nautical miles, 1-2 weeks of transit time, and approximately $1 million in fuel costs for each voyage,” the report says.

A table in a DIA report released June 13, 2024 about Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. (DIA)

By endangering Red Sea transit, the Houthis, officially called Ansar Allah (“supporters of God”), struck at a vital economic waterway.

“As of mid-February, container shipping through Red Sea had declined by approximately 90% since December 2023; shipping via the Red Sea typically accounts for approximately 10-15% of international maritime trade. Effects have been less severe in other shipping sectors carrying commodities on bulkers and tankers,” according to DIA report.

The US alleges Iran is the principal supplier of the Houthis’ weapons, an allegation Iran seems less and less intent on challenging. But even Tehran has not gone unaffected. A DIA table of events says that in an incident in February, a Houthi missile struck and damaged a Greek-owned ship that had come from Brazil and was destined for Iran.