MS Risk Blog

Russian Defector Targeted in Spain

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Topic: An analysis of the targeted killing of Russian defector Maxim Kuzminov in Spain and online Russian disinformation campaigns in Western and Southern Europe: What effects do these events have on the security of Western and Southern Europe?

Key Judgements:

  • Maxim Kuzminov is highly likely to have been killed by the GRU or the wider Russian Intelligence Services in Spain on February 13th 2024. 
  • Russia is seeking to target states in Western and Southern Europe that support Ukraine through conducting online disinformation campaigns. 
  • Russia has an active interest in destabilising Ukraine’s partners in Western and Southern Europe and is able to do so through a “wide range of opportunities”.

On August 9, 2023, Maxim Kuzminov, a captain of Russia’s 319th separate helicopter regiment officially became a Russian defector after he flew a Mil MI8 helicopter into Ukrainian territory and handed himself in as part of a special operation in coordination with Ukrainian Intelligence (GUR). The GUR operation, codenamed “Synitsa” had been in the works for six months. Kuzminov had originally contacted Ukrainian GUR agents in December 2022, expressing that he wanted to surrender to Ukraine in exchange for a large sum of money (€500,000) and to have a new life with his family in Ukraine. After defecting to Ukraine, Kuzminov was awarded the equivalent of €500,000 and spoke critically about Russia’s war in Ukraine at a high level press conference in Kyiv, encouraging other Russian’s fighting in Ukraine to do the same, by stating that “You won’t regret it.” Six months later, on February 13, 2024, Kuzminov was killed in Villajoyosa, a coastal town on the Costa Blanca in Spain. Kuzminov moved to Spain from Ukraine in December 2023. Prior to moving to Spain, he was issued fake documents by Ukrainian officials which stated that the 28 year-old Russian citizen was a “33-year-old citizen of Ukraine”. These documents were found at the scene of the targeted killing and his identity has been officially confirmed by police and Ukrainian Military Intelligence. Kuzminov’s body was “riddled with bullets”. He was shot “at least six times” and had been hit by a car (white SUV, Hyundai) in the targeted killing which occurred outside of a community garage in an apartment complex. The perpetrators fled the scene in a white Hyundai SUV used in the targeted killing. The vehicle was found to have been set on fire, 18km away in the nearby town of El Campello, which is a 20 minute drive away from Villajoyosa.

Whilst some contemporary news reports in the media claim that they are uncertain about who killed him, there is already strong evidence to suggest that Kuzminov was targeted by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, known as the GRU or by the wider Russian Intelligence Services. In October 2023, Russian State TV  Channel, Rossiya 1 broadcasted a very brief interview with several Russian Spetsnaz operators from the GRU. In the very brief interview, a Spetsnaz operator states that “the order to (assassinate Kuzminov) has already been received and its execution is only a question of time”. Other operators additionally pitch in commenting that “We will find him and punish him to the fullest extent of the law of or government”. Towards the end of the interview one operator comments “Of course we will find him, we can reach anyone, our arms are long.”

This clearly shows that the GRU  had an active interest in targeting Kuzminov after he had defected from fighting for Russia in August 2023. In light of Kuzminov’s death in Spain, the interview certainly does add weight to the argument that the GRU and Russian Intelligence more broadly  were involved in the targeted killing of Kuzminov. When news of Kuzminov’s death broke out, Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (the SVR) commented saying that Maxim Kuzminov was a “traitor and a criminal” who “became a moral corpse at the very moment when he planned his dirty and terrible crime”. This supports the fact that the wider Russian Intelligence community had an active interest in conducting a targeted killing on Kuzminov. Before Kuzminov’s identity was confirmed, Russian media were also the first to report on his death in Spain. Multiple news outlets have also reported that Russian ammunition has been discovered at the scene of the incident. One local news source stated that “Sources close to the investigation consider the assassins used Russian ammunition so there would be no doubt the execution, with its exemplary overtones, came from Russia and was the direct and announced consequence of the high-profile desertion.” Again this ties the Russian state and their intelligence services to Kuzminov’s death in Spain.  Recent evidence by Ukrainian sources has shown that prior to his death, Kuzminov had called his ex-girlfriend and “had invited her to Spain… afterwards he was found dead.” It is a realistic possibility that “that call could have been intercepted by Russian secret services”, allowing them to pinpoint his location and carryout a successful targeted killing. The following evidence presented above adds undeniable and transparent evidence that the murder of Maxim Kuzminov is highly likely to have been carried out by GRU,  the wider Russian Intelligence Services or the Russian State. 

As tragic as Kuzminov’s death at the hands of the Russian Intelligence Services and the wider Russian state is, it additionally creates security issues and challenges for countries in Western and Southern Europe. Kuzminov’s death is a “theatrical act of violence”, with the intention of demonstrating that Russia is willing and able to “kill with impunity all over the world”, including in the far corners of Southern Europe. Russia definitely does have long arms, as pointed out by the Spetsnaz operator in October 2023, and indeed ones which are able to pry their way into Europe bringing  mayhem and chaos to the forefront of European security. 

Alongside targeted killings, Russia has also been stepping up  recent disinformation campaigns in various regions in Southern and Western Europe. Viginum, a French foreign-disinformation watchdog revealed in mid February 2024, that it had uncovered “a Russian network of 193 websites” which it concluded Russia had created to use “for a large disinformation campaign in France, Germany, Poland and other European countries, tied in part to the second anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the elections to the European Parliament in June.” Current traffic on these sites are low, however, “French authorities think they are ready to be activated aggressively as part of what one official calls a “massive” wave of Russian disinformation”.  Over 50 of these websites have been created since 2022. The aim of these websites is “to spread ‘deceptive and false’ content about the war in Ukraine, both on websites and via social media” and by proxy, attempt destabilise various regions in Western and Southern Europe. Russia’s online disinformation campaigns and its targeted killing of Maxim Kuzminov’s highlights that “as the war in Ukraine protracts, Russia has an interest in creating crises further afield.” The targeted killing of Kuzminov in Spain also shows that despite the GRU’s reach into Europe having originally “suffered real setbacks from the widespread expulsion of Russian intelligence officers and the exposure of its personnel in the lead-up to the invasion of Ukraine… Russia is now actively trying to rebuild the capacity to embark on such operations”, and they are not afraid to do so.

Russia’s targeted killing of Kuzminov and its online disinformation campaigns in Western and Southern Europe ultimately makes clear that “Russia… has an active interest in destabilising Ukraine’s partners” and is able to do so through a “wide range of opportunities”. Ultimately, the targeted killing of Kuzminov is evidently an attempt to destabilise security in Southern Europe and put various countries in Western and Southern Europe on edge, whilst simultaneously sending a message to other Russian defectors who reside in Western and Southern Europe: they are not untouchable or safe despite however far away from Russia they may be.

Subsea Cables in the Red Sea  

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Key Judgments:

  1. The Houthis’ capability to attack subsea cables in the Red Sea is dependent on Iranian intelligence.
  2. There is a realistic probability that the subsea cables will be attacked. Severe disruption, however, is unlikely.

Since October, the Houthi militants have captured the world’s attention by their disruption to the critical shipping corridor in the Red Sea, significantly affecting global commercial shipping and energy flows. Recently, however, new concerns have been raised about a different target in the Red Sea: the subsea fiber optic cables that connect Asia and Europe. In December, a Telegram account linked to the Houthis posted a photo highlighting around a dozen of these subsea cables, with threats against them being shared and amplified by Iranian backed militias, including Hezbollah. These subsea cables carry nearly all the data and financial communications between these two continents, and therefore the Houthi’s interest in them as a target raises many concerns. The targeting of critical infrastructure is not a new phenomenon, as has been demonstrated by the destruction of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and damage to Nord Stream 2 in September of 2022. This tactic has become of increasing concern in recent years due to economic reliance on international shipping and global connectivity, and the continental consequences to disruptions of critical infrastructure. The question that needs answering is whether the Houthis have the capacity to act on this threat, regardless of their intent.

In 2013, three Egyptian divers were arrested for attempting to damage some subsea cables off the coast of Alexandria, successfully damaging the Southeast Asia Middle East Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) cable and affecting data traffic in Egypt. This demonstrates the relative vulnerability of these cables, being susceptible to damage by just three scuba divers. The Red Sea itself averages a depth of 500 meters, with a maximum depth of 3,040 meters. Whilst the initial thought might be that the Houthis, or even Iran, do not have the appropriate subsea capabilities to target this critical infrastructure, the 2013 incident highlights that advanced capabilities are not a prerequisite to conducting an attack on the cables. With sufficient intelligence of cable locations in shallower depths, an attack on these cables appears plausible.

The Houthis have been armed and trained by Iran since 2015. In a report published by the Defense Intelligence Agency in the US in February of 2024, imagery intelligence was used to demonstrate this connection between the two entities, showing us how the Houthi missiles that are currently being used are direct reworks from Iranian missiles paraded during military exhibitions. This Iranian support extends to the sharing of intelligence with the Houthis, as has been demonstrated by the presence of an Iranian military ship, the MV Behshad, in the Red Sea which the US claim is collecting intelligence on commercial shipping and sharing this with the Houthis to inform their attacks. Whilst the Houthis do not have the naval capabilities to appropriately collect intelligence amidst hostile navies, the MV Behshad may be able to supply the Houthis with intelligence on the ideal locations where a diver may be able to damage the cables. If this intelligence were to be provided, the Houthis will indeed have both the intent and the capability to conduct this attack, meeting the ‘threat’ criteria. This threat is amplified due to the consequences of such an attack. Whilst in peacetime, these subsea cables are often damaged as a result of fishing vessels or ship anchors dragging on the seabed, and most nations have standing units ready to repair these minor damages as and when they occur. In the Red Sea, however, the missile threat from the Houthis significantly degrades the ability to fix any potential damage to these cables, as the risk to the repair vehicle, which will need to remain still for several days to conduct the repair, will be too high.

Whilst the Houthis do in fact present a threat to these subsea cables, it is important to acknowledge that whilst one subsea cable is very vulnerable, there is a lot of resilience built into the system. Damage to one cable results in the rerouting of the data in said cable amongst the other cables in the network, therefore damage to any one cable will not severely affect the intercontinental data traffic. Also, individual divers will not be able to produce the widespread damage that would be possible if the Houthis had submarine capabilities, therefore reducing the scope of the threat.

To conclude, the subsea fiber optic cable network passing through the Red Sea is a vulnerable, critical infrastructure which the Houthis currently have the intent to target. With the support from Iranian intelligence, the Houthis are likely to obtain the capability to act on this intent, marking this issue as a significant threat, despite the resilience built into the network. As a result, the Houthis have a realistic probability to target these cables via diving operations in the shallower areas of the Red Sea. This threat is unlikely to cause severe disruptions to global data traffic, again due to the built-in resilience. A well-coordinated attack, however, certainly has the potential to do so. If this situation occurs, it will mark an escalation in the conflict between the West and the Houthi-Iranian alliance to new heights, and therefore needs to be monitored intently by Western forces in the Red Sea.

Security Review – Eastern Europe

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For the past month, Belarus has conducted mass raids, interrogation and arrest against political prisoners and its friends and relatives. According to Vasana Human Rights Centre, Belarusian human rights group reported that this is one of the most serious crackdowns in recent years. In late January, at least 159 people was prosecuted across the country by the Belarusian State Security Committee, referred to as Belarusian KGB.

Most of the arrest and persecution was made at their homes and workplaces of family and friends of political prisoners. Most of them were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, and some detainee’s phones were inspected, and monitoring software was installed.

Belarusian authorities experienced huge opposition demonstrations and it’s crackdown three years ago after the disputed presidential vote in 2020. Ever since, Belarusian authorities has concentrated their effort on oppressing political opposition, while getting into close ties with Moscow more than ever. Currently Belarusian president is one of the few allies of Moscow, actively supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. Recent crackdown of opposition it likely due to the parliamentary election on 25th February 2024.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus exiled opposition leader has called for a boycott of the election, calling it as “ritual without meaning or justice”. This is due to a fact that previous presidential election of 2020 was unjust, and the ‘All-Belarusian People’s Assembly”, which would be appointed by the newly elected regional and national authorities does not have any political power outside of Lukashenka’s grip.

It is highly likely that the parliamentary election’s result would be in favour to President Lukashenko, and Belarusian authorities would conduct whatever it takes to make it sure. With the humanitarian crisis, oppression against opposition and possibility of rigged election, most of the Western countries are against the current situation of Belarus. However Belarus is closing ties with Russia, which became it’s political sponsor and China, which became the biggest ally of Russia since war in Ukraine.


Transdniestria has been one of the biggest nightmares for the current government of Moldova, due to the fact that the condition is similar with Eastern Ukraine, and it is close with border with Ukraine. In 22 January, leader of pro-Russian separatist Transdniestria region called on its defence and intelligence institutions to maintain high level of military preparedness and hold regular drills, rising tension with government.

For 3 decades since the collapse of USSR, Transdniestria was controlled by the pro-Russian population who speaks Russian. From time to time, it was suspected that the direct connection with Moscow exist. Current leader, Vadim Krasnoeslsky expressed his support for unification with Russia and was suspected that he’s government is secretly supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine and letting illegal arms and drug trade.

Also, direct Russian influence also exist in this region. Transnistria hosts 1,500 Russian troops on national security grounds. In the early stage of the Ukraine war, the Russian forces attempted to push in the southern part of the Ukraine, gaining control of the Black Sea, and getting territorial connection with the Transnistria. Although this attempt has failed with the Russian offensive failing at southern part of Ukraine, such Russian threat is still a serious matter for Moldova.

Such tension is rising since Moldova is trying to join EU. Moldova was official granted candidate status by EU on 22 June 2022 with Ukraine. Maia Sandu, who is a president of Moldova since 2020 is the one who is pushing Moldova into EU. Such tension between Moldova and its separatist local government would be likely continue because of the growing tension with Russia and the West.


Farmers protest in Poland is escalating. In early January, Poland experience political protest after the arrest of the key members of the previous administration. This issue is still an ongoing problem with the new pro-EU administration, but currently the bigger problem for the new government is the farmers protest that is erupting across the continent.

Poland farmers are joining series of protests by their counterparts in Germany, France, Romania, Creece, Latvia, Lethuania and Belgium. The organizers, the Solidarity Union of Individual Framers claimed that , it is directed against the policy of the European Union, Green Deal and the policy that allows for an uncontrolled inflow of farming produce from Ukraine.

Over 250 protest action has been announced at 9 February, blocking access road to major cities including Poznań, Wrocław, Katowice, Białystok and Kraków. This is a major political blow for the current administration, but the immediate change of EU policy by the current pro-EU administration is unrealistic, indicating that such turmoil would not over soon.


On 9 February, Russian president interview with Tucker Carlson, the ex-For News anchor. Direct interview by the Western journalist of Putin is rare event, therefore global interest was concentrated on the 2-hour interview that was released on the website of Tucker Calrson and X. This is the first time president Putin agreed to an interview outside Russia since Ukraine war, and the claim of President Putin had lots of similarity with the announcement by himself before launching the invasion on Ukraine.

 Majority of President Putin’s claim on the interview was focused on the Russia’s victimization against Western aggression, with the historical context that concludes to Russia’s claim that Ukraine is artificial nation made by the West. On the question by Carlson about the distraction of Nord stream and arrest of American journalist from Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich, he claimed fault on West. The arrest of journalist is because of his espionage act. But he also stated that authorities would be willing to release him if “our partners take reciprocal steps.” And the Nord stream was destroyed by the CIA.

Although the message has not been changed since the start of the invasion, the interview and its broadcast indicates that Kremlin is still pushing the narrative of ‘Protector of Western value’ against the West. And the fact that the claim that Russia is protecting it’s Christian value against corrupted liberal West would send a powerful message to the audience of US and Europe. The upcoming presidential election of the US and rise of far-right party in Europe would be possible target for Kremlin’s attempt on this interview.

This also stages Tucker Carlson in a position that could influence the frustrated right wing conservative population in West. He has been one of the major representatives of far-right movement especially in US, and this interview would likely to make him one of the biggest star to certain population. The future actions as possible far-right idol is unknown, but it is likely that he would play key roles on the upcoming election within Trump supporters.


President Volodymyr Zelensky announced in 9 February the dismissal of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, top commander of Ukrainian military and the face of the defence of Ukraine since the invasion of Russia. General Zaluzhnyi’s dispute between president is because counteroffensive of Ukraine has failed, and Ukraine is facing Russian forces and ammunition and other aid shortages. The replacement of Zaluzhnyi would be Oleksandr Syrskyi, who has been Commander of Ukrainian Land Forces since 2019. It is unknown Zaluzhnyi would remain in the military.

The replacement of Zaluzhnyi is a political gamble for president Zelensky, since the Ukrainian’s failure of counteroffensive created scepticism about supporting Ukraine, and Zaluzhnyi still remaining one of the most popular figure in the country. The current support for Zaluzhnyi is 88%, higher than Zelensky’s approval rating with 62%. There is a possibility that the replacement is not just because of the military failure, but the fact that Zaluzhnyi could emerge as political rival against Zelensky, although Zaluzhnyi did not shown political ambition that much.

Critical opinion within the military is being seen. According to CNN, one of the frontline commanders of Ukrainian forces claimed that changing the Commander in Chief in the middle of the war hurts military effort to win the war. However, it is also true that the long war with different stage requires different set of leadership skills, and it is undeniable that the current stage of frontline is different comparing with the initial stage of Ukrainian war.

Israel’s targeting of Hamas, Hezbollah and IRGC leadership

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Israel has a long history of conflict with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), all of which are designated as terrorist organizations by Israel and other nations. Israel has recently been conducting targeted operations to remove key individuals within these organisations’ leadership. These activities might have a variety of consequences in the coming months, beginning with a weakening of the organisational structure inside Hamas, Hezbollah, and IRGC’s organization operations. The loss of these key leaders however could also spark a new regional spillover.

On January 3rd, 2024, Saleh Al-Arouri, a senior Hamas commander and one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank, was killed in the southern Beirut neighbourhood of Dahieh. At least four innocent people were also killed in the attack. This incident sparked a new wave of hatred with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah cautioning against Israeli killings in Lebanon, warning they would result in a “strong response”. Hamas on the other hand, told Egyptian and Qatari mediators that it is suspending talks over the possible release of more Israeli hostages in response to Arouri’s killing. Moreover, as the assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri occurred on Lebanon’s soil the potential of Hezbollah getting involved in this ‘revenge’ plan is more and more possible.  At the moment, the conflict is mostly between Israel and Hamas however, Hezbollah remains a danger to Israel. If Iran engagement continues, given its confirmed support for Hezbollah by funding them, the dynamics of the war might quickly shift, escalating the situation to a regional conflict.

On January 8th, 2024, senior commander Wissam Tawil of Hezbollah was killed in a strike in southern Lebanon. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, confirmed that Israel is responsible for the assassination of Wissam al-Tawil. Israel seems to have changed its strategy focus to attacking Hezbollah operatives, facilities, and systems used to deter Israel. Tawil was reportedly a member of the group’s elite Radwan Force and one of the most notable Hezbollah officials killed in the ongoing conflict. Like the assassination of Hamas’s deputy leader last week in Beirut, al-Tawil’s killing could raise fears of a larger regional conflict. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz however threatened Lebanon with far-reaching implications beyond the 2006 conflict but stated that Israel does not want tensions to escalate.

On December 25th, 2023, Sayyed Razi Mousavi, Iran’s top military advisor, was killed in Syria’s Damascus suburbs. Again, this incident created a lot of fear with the IRGC saying that the “usurper and savage Zionist regime will pay for this crime”. More recently on the 20th January 2024, five senior members of Iran’s security forces were killed in a suspected air strike on the Syrian capital. Among them were IRGC’s Syria’s intelligence chief and his deputy, as well as other Guard members. In recent months, Israel has launched hundreds of attacks on targets in government-controlled areas of war-torn Syria. Israel rarely acknowledges its attacks on Syria but when it does, it claims it is targeting Iran-backed forces who have supported Assad’s administration.

The assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri has significantly disrupted the negotiations between Hamas and its Western counterparts, causing Hamas to halt discussions on the issue of hostages, as passed on by mediators from Qatar to Israel. Furthermore, the potential of similar acts by Hezbollah and the IRGC on a bigger scale highlights the interconnection of multiple actors in the region. Given Hezbollah’s proven ties to Iran and Syria, the assassination of high-ranking members within the organisation might have far-reaching implications. This includes the potential of a spillover effect across regional alliances and power dynamics, as well as new alignments or adjustments in geopolitical strategies.

Given Hezbollah’s current status as a result of fighter and commander casualties, the West may be able to impose diplomatic pressure on Hezbollah to refrain from engaging in future combat operations. France has emerged as a leading mediator in the escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel. This position allows for Western engagement to counter Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and other activities, thereby supporting the government’s efforts to strengthen control. However, this might take a sudden turn, worsening Hezbollah’s radicalism and leading to more assaults rather than fostering diplomatic agreements.

If diplomatic efforts fail to achieve the desired outcomes, the situation might worsen further, possibly leading to another Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Israel has conducted multiple attacks against Lebanon throughout the years, particularly 1978, 1982, and 2006. More recently, on the 28th of January 2024, according to Lebanese radio LBCI, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to launch a full-fledged war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. U.S. officials are reportedly afraid that Netanyahu may launch a strike on Lebanon in response to mounting criticism of his inability to prevent the October 7 incident. However, a two-front war against Hamas and Hezbollah would be very difficult for the IDF to succeed.

Overall, the approaching months are quite unpredictable, the recent wave of assassinations targeting top members of these groups has left these organizations vulnerable and may significantly impact their operational capabilities and future activities. Nonetheless, if Israel decides to invade Lebanon, it might cause a bigger regional spillover, perhaps drawing in the involvement of Iran (and IRGC), thereby worsening the situation in the region.

The Houthi-Western Escalation

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Key Judgment: Within the next six (6) months, it is highly likely that we will continue to see disruption to commercial shipping in the Red Sea by the Houthi rebels.

Due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Houthi’s, a Shia Islamist rebel group backed by Iran who control Western Yemen, announced on the 19th of October 2023 that all ships associated with Israel that operate in the Red Sea area will be targeted in offensive, disruptive attacks. Whilst this was the initial statement from the Houthi’s, they have since used this a guise to justify attacks on all commercial ships that operate in the area, severely disrupting global trade routes. The Red Sea and Bab el Mandeb Strait make up roughly 12% of world trade and 30% of global container traffic. An estimated 4.5 million barrels of oil pass through this region every day, and shipments of liquified natural gas along the route in the first half of 2023 came to around eight percent of the commodity’s trade globally. About 95% of the vessels that operate through these regions have rerouted around Cape of Good Hope, the only alternative shipping route, adding 4,000-6,000 nautical miles and 14-20 days to journeys. This has added supply chain stress, as well as incredible hikes in insurance and freight shipping costs as a result, with some experiencing 600% increases in these costs.

As a result of the Houthi disruption of freedom of navigation of commercial shipping, and the economic stress caused by these actions, the US and the UK responded on the 11th of January 2024 with joint airstrikes on Houthi drone, radar, and weapon sites. The aims of the strikes being to disrupt Houthi capabilities to further impede freedom of navigation. Following these strikes, the Houthi’s conducted 12 attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, resulting in a second joint air strike between the US and UK on Houthi positions on the 22nd of January. This demonstrates the West’s commitment to fighting against the Shia agenda in the Middle East. Prior to the US-UK led air strikes, Western nations launched Operation Prosperity Guardian on 18th December 2023 to support and maintain maritime security, with interceptions of missiles targeting US/UK Navy or commercial ships being a daily occurrence since the beginning of January.

Whilst the Houthis have built up their arsenal largely through the absorption of Yemeni military equipment, Iran are the primary financers of the Houthis. Utilizing complex smuggling networks within the Middle East and Africa, Iran has provided them with everything from small arms to long range ballistic missiles to further their strength. Iran are also the primary supporters of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist militant/terrorist group, as well as Hamas, a Sunni Islamist militant/terrorist group. Both groups, alongside the Houthis, have ramped up the scale of their attacks on Israel and Western forces since the beginning of the conflict on October 7th, 2023. Iran also supports Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria, which have been targeting US military bases in these regions throughout December 2023 and January 2024. Iran, who has been isolated by the West through severe sanctions in the last decade, sees an opportunity to reestablish power in the region by capitalizing on the tensions and escalating conflict levels via their proxy actors. This emboldening of Iran lines up well with the timing of increasing tensions in Europe with Russia, and in South-East Asia with China. As a result of this, it appears likely that Iran will maintain this strategy to take advantage of the division of Western power and attention.

In conclusion, the escalation of conflict in the Middle East between Iranian proxies and Western powers appears to be a calculated move to take advantage of the global tensions and the distraction of the West. By controlling the Red Sea area, Iran and the Houthi’s increase their bargaining power, and their influence on Western agenda. As a result of this, it is highly likely that disruption of commercial shipping in the region will persist for the next 6 months, and it is highly likely because of this that we will see continued offensive actions by US-UK led Western powers into Houthi territories.