The Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has largely pushed them out of the southern reaches of the country, but the group is still entrenched in the west, especially along the Red Sea.
Destabilizing the Mandeb Strait could be part of a larger Iranian-backed regional strategy, one that has the potential to inflict significant economic pain on Saudi Arabia and the west. And this isn’t the first time a Sunni Arab coalition vessel has been attacked by the Shiite anti-Yemeni government group; a year ago, two coalition ships were supposedly sunk by Iranian-supplied anti-ship missiles. A third ship was struck just months before that.
The UAE has formally acknowledged that there was an “incident” with the ship, but claims that no lives were lost. If the video above is legitimate, which it appears to be, that would be a miracle.
This attack is another reminder of the growing danger that anti-ship missiles represent—especially those that are more frequently being obtained by unpredictable non-state actors. This strike in particular is reminiscent of the 2006 attack on an Israeli Sa’ar 5 class corvette by another Iranian-backed group, Hezbollah, that had been supplied with a similar anti-ship missile system. Although in that case, the targeted ship was armed with a CIWS, albeit one that was not fully activated at the time.
On the other hand, state actors have turned entire bodies of water into super anti-ship missile engagement zones, with layers of various anti-ship missile defenses ranging out for hundreds and even thousands of miles. Even relatively dated anti-ship missiles, or, in more rare circumstances, anti-tank missiles, are especially dangerous to vessels operating close to shore in the so-called littoral combat environment. In such an environment, these weapons can emerge from seemingly nowhere and impact in a matter of seconds, giving a crew little time to react. This is a reality that even the world’s most advanced surface combatant will have to come to terms with.
USS Joint Venture in now providing ferry service in the UK and USAV Spearhead is doing the same in the Caribbean. Swift seems to have been owned and operated by a UAE maritime company starting in 2015, although it seems like the UAE military had the ship under charter until today’s attack.
We will update this post over the next 24 hours with any new information if it becomes available.
*Author’s note: Post updated with operating locations of Spearhead and Joint Venture.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com