Telecom firms linked to the UN-recognised Yemen government have said they fear Houthi rebels are planning to sabotage a network of submarine cables in the Red Sea critical to the functioning of the western internet and the transmission of financial data.
The warning came after a Houthi-linked Telegram channel published a map of the cables running along the bed of the Red Sea. The image was accompanied by a message: “There are maps of international cables connecting all regions of the world through the sea. It seems that Yemen is in a strategic location, as internet lines that connect entire continents – not only countries – pass near it.”
Yemen Telecom said it had made both diplomatic and legal efforts during the past few years to persuade global international telecom alliances not to have any dealings with the Houthis since it would provide a terrorist group with knowledge of how the submarine cables operated. It has been estimated that the Red Sea carries about 17% of the world’s internet traffic along fibre pipes.
In a statement, Yemen’s General Telecommunications Corporation condemned the threats of the Houthi terrorist militia to target international submarine cables.
It said that as many as 16 of these submarine cables – which are often no thicker than a hosepipe and are vulnerable to damage from ships’ anchors and earthquakes – pass through the Red Sea towards Egypt. One of the most strategic is the 15,500-mile (25,000km) Asia-Africa-Europe AE-1 that goes from southeast Asia to Europe via the Red Sea.
Security analysts at the Gulf Security Forum claimed last week in a report that the “cables have been kept safe more due to the Houthis’ relative technological underdevelopment than for a lack of motivation”.
It added “the Houthis have maintained the capability to harass surface shipping through missiles and fast-attack craft but lack the submersibles necessary to reach the cables”.
However, it warned the cables at some points run at a depth of 100 metres, reducing the need for high-tech submarines. In 2013, three divers were arrested in Egypt for attempting to cut an undersea cable near the port of Alexandria that provides much of the internet capacity between Europe and Egypt.
Moammar al-Eryani, the information minister in Yemen’s Aden-based government, said the Houthis posed a serious threat to “one of the most important digital infrastructures in the world”, adding the Houthis are a terrorist group that has no ceiling or limits.
American forces carried out air strikes against five missile sites in Yemen on Sunday – one designed for land attack and the others for targeting ships, the US military said.
The strikes came a day after US and UK forces launched a wave of air raids against Yemen‘s Iran-backed Houthis – their third round of joint military action in response to the rebels’ persistent attacks on shipping.
US forces “conducted a strike in self-defence against a Houthi ... land attack cruise missile” and later struck “four anti-ship cruise missiles, all of which were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea”, Central Command (Centcom) said on social media.
American forces “identified the missiles in Huothi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” Centcom added.
The Houthis began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.
US and UK forces responded with strikes against the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.
Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul Salam has said the Houthis are willing to use new tactics to stop the American-British aggression against Yemen.
He said, our “decision to support Gaza is firm and principled and will not be affected by any attack. Regarding Yemeni military capabilities, we would like to stress that they are not easy to destroy and have been rebuilt during years of harsh war. Instead of escalation and igniting a new front in the region, United States and Britain should submit to international public opinion, which demands an immediate halt to the Israeli aggression, lift the siege on Gaza, and stop protecting Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people”.
Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza – which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7th – has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
On January 28th, a drone slammed into a base in Jordan, killing three US soldiers and wounding more than 40 – an attack Washington blamed on Iran-backed forces.
The US responded on Friday with a series of unilateral strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq.
– Guardian / Agence France-Presse