Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel

“Iran since 2019 has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks on vessels have been attributed to it amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear program.
Since November, Iran had dialed back its ship attacks as the Houthis targeted ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Houthi attacks have slowed in recent weeks as the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ended and the rebels have faced months of U.S.-led airstrikes targeting them.

In previous seizures, Iran has offered initial explanations about their operations to make it seem like the attacks had nothing to do with the wider geopolitical tensions — though later acknowledging as much. In Saturday’s attack, however, Iran telling offered no explanation for the seizure other than to say the MSC Aries had links to Israel.”

The US Navy has a missile problem in the Red Sea

“The US Navy has a missile problem. A shortage of its best SM-6 missiles – multipurpose weapons that can sink ships, hit targets on land and intercept aircraft and other missiles – could doom its fleet. Missiles are being expended at a high rate in the current Red Sea fighting against the Iranian-backed Houthis of Yemen. What good are the Navy’s 85 destroyers and cruisers if they can’t shoot?
A little industrial ingenuity could end the crisis, however. Defense firm Lockheed Martin is proposing to arm Navy ships with a missile that normally launches from land: the US Army’s Patriot.

The Patriot is a deadly accurate munition, as Ukrainian and Russians forces have learned. The hard way, in the Russians’ case. But its main advantage over the Navy’s best SM-6 missile is that Lockheed makes a lot of them.

On paper, the US fleet is a giant floating missile magazine. Each of 72 destroyers sails with as many as 96 vertical missile cells. A cruiser – the Navy has 13 of them – has 122 cells. Each cell can fire various weapons such as an SM-2 surface-to-air missile or a Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile. But the best weapon that fits in the so-called “vertical launch system” is the SM-6.

The 22-foot, 3,300-pound SM-6 is the Navy’s only omni-role missile. Thanks to its sensitive built-in radar, it works equally well against targets on the sea, on land and in the air out to a range of 150 miles or farther. It’s even able to offer a defense against incoming hypersonic weapons.

But the SM-6 is complex. For a decade now, the Navy has been paying Raytheon to build 125 of the missiles per year at a cost of slightly more than $4 million per missile; the fleet has around 600 in stock. The production rate should increase slightly in the coming years.

Even taking into account the fleet’s large arsenal of less-capable SM-2s, there’s a real danger it could get overwhelmed by enemy missiles, drones and warplanes during, say, a war with China over Taiwan.”

The US Coast Guard seized a big cache of weapons bound for Houthi rebels, including ballistic missile components and explosives

“Over 200 packages of illegal weapons and military components bound for Yemen have been seized by the US Coast Guard, the US Central Command said in a statement on Thursday.
The shipment was seized from a vessel in the Arabian Sea on January 28, per the statement. The US Central Command said the weapons had originated in Iran and were en-route to be delivered to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

A vast assortment of weapons were found on the vessel, ranging from medium-range ballistic missile components, explosives, and anti-tank guided missile launcher assemblies.

“This is yet another example of Iran’s malign activity in the region, ” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM commander, said in the statement.”

US Now Pursuing ‘Least Bad’ Option in Confronting Houthis

““Obviously, in some ways, deterrence has improved, because we have seen reduced attacks, but actually that’s only happened because we’ve degraded their capabilities — there will be more strikes, I’m almost certain of that,” Kearns said.”

“The US is now attacking in real-time as militants in Yemen mobilize missiles for attacks on commercial vessels. So far, it seems the military response has only emboldened the Houthis. “It is an honor for our people to be in such a confrontation with these evil forces,” Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the head of the militant group, said in a speech on Thursday, citing the US, the UK and Israel.”

China warns US against escalating strikes on Houthis

“China is warning the U.S. against escalating its attacks on Yemen’s Houthi rebels, as the conflict in the Red Sea increasingly threatens both Beijing’s economic and diplomatic interests.
The Houthis’ months-long campaign to restrict maritime traffic moving through key Middle East waterways is a particular threat to China, which is heavily reliant on the Suez Canal and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait to move Chinese products to European markets. China is also more dependent than the U.S. on oil and gas imports from countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Qatar.

“China is concerned about the escalating tension in the Red Sea and calls on relevant parties to exercise calm and restraint to prevent the conflict from escalating,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told reporters on Friday. “China calls on relevant parties to play a constructive and responsible role in keeping the Red Sea safe and stable, which serves the common interests of the international community.”

China declined to join a U.S.-led coalition of forces, called Operation Prosperity Guardian, which began policing the Red Sea last month.

On a broader level, the growing military exchanges between the U.S. and Houthis threaten China’s Mideast diplomatic interests. Last spring, Beijing stunned Washington by brokering a normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Houthis’ primary military backer. The deal was based, in part, on Iran’s commitment to China to cut off military supplies to the Yemeni militia and constrain Houthi attacks on Saudi and international targets.

But Tehran in recent weeks has praised the Houthis’ Red Sea operation, and Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has embedded personnel among the Yemeni militia’s forces, according to U.S. and Arab officials.”

“The Pentagon announced Tuesday that they interdicted a vessel off the coast of Somalia last week that was ferrying Iranian-manufactured ballistic missile and cruise missile components to the Houthis.”

First Preemptive Strikes Against Houthi Missiles Preparing To Fire Launched By U.S.

“The U.S. launched a preemptive strike against Houthi targets in Yemen early Tuesday morning Yemen time, destroying four anti-ship ballistic missiles being prepared for launch, a U.S. defense official told The War Zone. This is the first time the U.S. has launched what a second U.S. official called an “imminent self-defense strike” against Houthi missiles being prepared to launch. The first official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details, declined to say how those strikes were carried out, citing operational security concerns.”

This week in Bidenomics: US airstrikes target inflation, too

“The Middle East war is widening, but that may be better than the alternative: new inflationary pressure from an obscure fundamentalist militia 8,000 miles from US shores.
The US and UK militaries finally struck back at Houthi forces in Yemen on Jan. 11 and 12, in response to at least 27 Houthi attacks on commercial ships navigating the Red Sea between northern Africa and Saudi Arabia. There were legitimate military reasons for the retaliatory strikes, given that the Houthis have targeted US and allied forces, including Israel. But there was a powerful economic incentive too: The attacks on commercial vessels were starting to drive up shipping costs and threatening to reignite inflation, just as the Biden administration feels it is finally taming the biggest barrier to a second term for President Biden.

The Red Sea is a crucial shipping lane because the Suez Canal, at its northern tip, connects waters that serve Western markets with the Indian Ocean and routes to Asia. Ships unable to transit the Red Sea need to take the much longer and costlier journey around the southern tip of Africa. About 15% of world trade transits the area.”

Escalation in the Red Sea

“”the [Biden] administration declassified intelligence indicating that Iranian paramilitary groups were coordinating the Houthi attacks, providing targeting information about commercial shipping passing through the waterway and the Suez Canal.””

Federal Shipping Regulations Sank One of America’s Biggest Offshore Wind Projects

“That Reuters report doesn’t include a specific mention of the Jones Act—the century-old law that effectively bans foreign-built ships from operating between American ports, and that subsequently drives up the cost of shipbuilding and shipping in the United States—but the subtext is pretty clear. In a call with reporters a few days after the project was canceled, Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper cited “significant delays on vessel availability” caused “a situation where we would need to go out and recontract all or very large scopes of the project at expectedly higher prices.”
That’s what the Jones Act does. As Reason has reported on many other occasions, the Jones Act is a nakedly protectionist law that severely limits competition in the American shipping market by requiring that ships operating between U.S. ports are American-built, American-crewed, and American-flagged.

Building offshore wind farms requires ships that can deliver supplies to the construction site and some specialty ships that serve as a base for building the turbines. While there are plenty of ships around the rest of the world that can do that work, companies like Ørsted can’t use those ships to build wind farms in American coastal waters.”