Security Council meets over Red Sea attacks amid growing threat of spillover from Gaza war

UN Photo/Manuel Elías | Members of the Security-Council gather for a meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security in the Red Sea.

United Nations, 3 January 2024

The UN Security Council on Wednesday held its first open meeting on the continuing attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, which are becoming an increasing threat to global trade and the stability of the entire region as the intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza continues.

  • UN Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari said “no cause or grievance” could justify continuing Houthi attacks against freedom of navigation in the Red Sea
  • All incidents originating in Houthi controlled areas “must stop”
  • He encouraged “all concerned parties” in the wider region to avoid any further escalation and de-escalate tensions and threats
  • Called for a return to the regular flow of traffic to avoid the risk of Yemen being “dragged into a regional conflagration”
  • IMO Secretary-General Arsenio Dominguez described the attacks as unacceptable saying ships “must be allowed to trade worldwide unhindered and in accordance with international law”
  • Reiterated a call for de-escalation “to ensure the safety of our seafarers, freedom of navigation and stability of supply chains”
  • The meeting adjourned at 4:23 PM. You can watch the video of the Council meeting from UN Web TV here

And you can find speaker-by-speaker coverage from our Meetings Coverage Service, right here.

4:12 PM

Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France which holds the presidency of the Council this month, said through their armed actions, the Houthis and those who train and support them, bear a heavy responsibility for the escalation of tensions in the region as well as for international stability. 

He recalled that France and all States have the right to take appropriate measures to ensure safety at sea. This is what France did when the frigate Languedoc destroyed drones on December 9 that were threatening one of its ships, he told the Council. 

It is also the collective responsibility of the Council to ensure that the peace process in Yemen continues according to the road map of the UN Special Envoy, he noted.

© Unsplash/Angus Gray | Attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea have severely disrupted international shipping.

France will carry out its responsibilities in the Bab Al Mandeb Strait and will continue to contribute to the safety of commercial ships in conjunction with its partners, he insisted, calling on all international and regional actors to avoid further escalation.

3:50 PM

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN said that restrictions on freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden was not happening in a vacuum.

He said nobody should deny that “what is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been ongoing for three months.”

Escalation is also happening in other occupied Palestinian territories, he continued, as well as across the Israel-Lebanon border. 

He blamed the US for covering up Israel’s actions and holding the remaining members of the Security Council “hostage” by vetoing any resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

We see two scenarios going forward he said: firstly and preferably, redouble the Council’s efforts to resolve the decades-long conflict in Yemen and end the violence in the Gaza Strip.

The second “catastrophic” option would be “putting out the fire” of the crisis in the Red Sea with gasoline, as the United States and its allies are calling us to do.

Unfortunately, the second scenario seems to be emerging, he said, attacking the US-led “international maritime coalition” established last month and aimed at deterring Houthi attacks. 

For the “hot heads” in Washington, another conflict in the Middle East is just one more geopolitical game, he claimed. 

3:41 PM

In his inaugural address as a Security Council member, Algeria’s ambassador, Amar Bendjama, said Algeria was committed to international peace and security.

He recognized the crucial role of the Red Sea route as of “paramount importance for the whole world.”

UN Photo/Manuel Elías | The Permanent Representative of Algeria to the UN, Amar Bendjama, address the Security Council.

But he said the crisis at sea must been seen within a broader regional context. 

First, the region is currently wracked with instability due to the war in Gaza with the potential of spillover “at any moment”. It is crucial to prevent the emergence of any regional conflict with “out of control regional consequences”, he warned.

He said positive signs have been emanating from Yemen due to the good work of the UN Special Envoy. He said it was vital to steer clear of any action that could interfere with his work there.

He said comprehensive analysis necessitated an understanding of the history and geography of the region, therefore addressing the root causes of the conflict is essential.

The current international and regional instability is the manifestation of yet another profound malaise he said, warning of the “erosion of collective security architecture” and “weakening of diplomacy”.

He said the Red Sea was far more than just a trade route, hailing it as an historic region that is home to communities with legitimate aspirations and hopes.

© IMO | A container ship passes through the Suez Canal.

3:39 PM

The UK Deputy Permanent Representative, James Kariuki, called on the Houthis to cease their attacks immediately.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías | James Kariuki, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting on the Red Sea.

Today we joined 11 countries in a statement warning against further attacks, he said. 

“We will continue to work with allies and partners to pursue all diplomatic routes to end this threat. 

“If necessary, as the UK Defence Secretary has stated, we will not hesitate to take action to deter threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.”

Contrary to claims made by the Houthis, these attacks are totally indiscriminate and target shipping that has no connection to Israel, he insisted. 

The British Foreign Secretary spoke with the Iranian Foreign Minister on Sunday, making clear our view that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks, given their long-standing support to the Houthis, he continued.

He called for all parties in the region to avoid escalation, and exercise restraint, expressing concern for the plight of civilians.  

3:25 PM

Yamazaki Kazuyuki, Permanent Representative of Japan, said his country was outraged by the armed “seizure” and continued holding of the Japanese-operated Galaxy Leader and its 25-person multinational crew, on 19 November. 

He said it was unacceptable that the innocent crew has been detained for more than 40 days. 

The Red Sea is a critical sea lane and being forced to divert around the Cape of Good Hope is more costly, energy-intensive, and time-consuming.

He unequivocally condemned the Houthi’s actions and called on them to cease.

Continued attacks will have a negative impact on supply chains and the global economy. It is crucial now to think about next steps, he said, and the Security Council must take “appropriate action to deter additional threats” by the Houthis and maintain international peace and security. 

3:15 PM

United States ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative, Christopher Lu, said that the threat to navigational rights and freedoms in the Red Sea is a global challenge and necessitates “a global response”.

He warned that the Houthis continue to strike commercial vessels transiting through the Red Sea’s vital shipping lane amid growing consensus for freedom of navigation, regional peace and security and global commerce. 

Since 19 November, there have been over 20 attacks by the Houthis, he noted. The US and its allies have launched multinational naval operations to protect ships in the southern part of the Red Sea and deter lawless non-State actors, he said.

He recalled an incident during which US navy personnel issued verbal warnings to the Houthi attackers but rather than cease their attacks, they responded by opening fire. 

Three Houthi boats subsequently sank.  Additionally, two anti-ship missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas at United States navy vessels. 

Citing these attacks as clear violations of international law, he said that they pose grave implications for maritime security and undermine the fragile humanitarian situation in Yemen, thwarting the ability of the international community to deliver assistance to 21 million people in need.

He also shed light on the root of the problem – Iran’s long-standing provision of financing to aid the Houthi operations.

He called on the Council to speak with one voice and demand that the Houthis stop their attacks. 

We call for a global response from this Council to this global challenge and we are ready to discuss the situation further with other Member States, he added.

Ambassador Christopher P. Lu of the United States addresses a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security in the Red Sea.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías | Ambassador Christopher P. Lu of the United States addresses a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security in the Red Sea.

3:13 PM

The Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Arsenio Dominguez, said that recent information received by IMO showed that Houthis were not confining their attacks just to shipping linked to Israel.

A significant number of companies are already rerouting their ships around South Africa to reduce their risks, representing an additional 10 days to journeys on average, and negatively impacting international trade, and costs of freight.

He reminded of earlier recommendations agreed in December on how to deal with the crisis, saying IMO had a programme already in place on security in the Red Sea region.

He reiterated his call for de-escalation “to ensure safety of our seafarers, freedom of navigation and stability of supply chains.

He said IMO would continue to monitor the situation in collaboration with Member States and partners from the industry, together with navies involved in ensuring security at sea.

3:10 PM

We reiterate that incidents originating from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen must stop, said Mr Khairi. 

“No cause or grievance can justify continuation of these attacks against the freedom of navigation”, he added.

“As to the overall situation in the region, we encourage all concerned parties to avoid further escalation and de-escalate tensions and threats. This is critical so that traffic through the Red Sea can return to its normal state and the risk of Yemen being dragged into a regional conflagration be avoided.”

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe | UN Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari addresses a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security in the Red Sea.

He concluded saying that the “continued assistance of this Council in actively engaging with all concerned parties who may be able to push for restraint remains extremely valuable so that through our combined efforts we can prevent further escalation in the Red Sea from exacerbating regional tensions or undermining regional peace, security, or international trade.”

3:04 PM

The meeting has just begun, presided over by France, which holds the gavel for January.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Khaled Khiari, said that there have been alarming developments in the Red Sea since the Council last met on the crisis.

He said the repercussions of military escalations and threats to maritime navigation is of serious concern that could impact “millions in Yemen, the region, and globally.”

2:40 PM

There have been well over 20 attacks on international shipping by Houthi rebels in Yemen along the crucial international shipping lanes of the Red Sea, since the 7 October attacks by Hamas led to Israel’s devastating offensive.

The Houthi rebel movement controls the capital and large swathes of the country, including the Red Sea coast. They began targeting what they believe to be Israel-bound vessels in mid-November after first launching missile and drone attacks against Israel, in support of extremist group Hamas.

Now they have widened their aim to all international shipping companies, until Israel allows full humanitarian supplies to enter Gaza, causing many to divert their ships far to the south around the Cape of Good Hope, incurring extra costs and adding extra days, driving up costs.

With tensions and concern over regional spillover also rising following the assassination of Hamas’s deputy leader and other commanders in Beirut on Tuesday, Iran has also reportedly rejected calls from the US and the UK to end its support for the attacks by Houthi rebels. 

An Iranian destroyer crossed into the Red Sea on Monday, while a US-led multinational task force was formed on 18 December in a bid to counter the Houthi attacks.

Top UN officials to brief

The Security Council issued a press statement on 1 December addressing the Houthi threat condemning the attacks “in the strongest terms”. They also called for the immediate release of the Japanese registered MV Galaxy Leader which was seized by rebels on 19 November.

Two senior UN officials are due to brief ambassadors beginning at 3:00 PM, and following the open meeting, the 15-member Security Council will then go into closed session.

Just a reminder here of the last Security Council resolution adopted on the Gaza crisis on 22 December, where ambassadors called for immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to stricken civilians in Gaza. 

And the most recent meeting focused on the crisis of the Council on 29 December, saw the UN chief António Guterres warn of the widening risks of further spillover.

The original article appeared here.

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