MS Risk Blog

The Driving Forces behind the Houthis  

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It is highly likely that the Houthis will continue to use their current Red Sea strategy in order to consolidate their power and territory in Yemen and achieve political legitimacy. It is assessed with high confidence that political leverage over the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, is the driving force behind the Houthis Red Sea strategy. 

The Houthi’s, a Shia-Islamic militant group based in Yemen, have been disrupting maritime trade in the Red Sea region via drone attacks, ballistic missiles, as well as piracy, since October 7th, 2023. This disruption was initially targeted at only Israeli-linked vessels; however, this has since spread to encompass all shipping in the region. The overt reason for the disruption is to degrade Israeli trade in solidarity with Hamas in Gaza, one of the groups, along with the Houthis and Hezbollah, which makes up Iran’s “Axis of Resistance”. The Houthis, however, have been active and operating since the 1980s, and have been in a civil war in Yemen since 2014, thus indicating that the group has their own agenda, which is separate from Iran’s machinations. This paper will therefore analyse the formation of the Houthis via their political and religious lines and aim to assess the short to medium term goals of the Houthis, removed from Iranian influence.

Religion is the focal point of the Houthi movement and identity, which was born in the late 1980s to early 1990s as a response to the marginalisation being faced by the Zaydi population (Zaydism being a branch of Shi’ism) by the Sunni Yemen Arab Republic. Saudi Arabia was very involved in pushing the Sunni belief system amongst the largely Zaydi population of Northern Yemen in order to undermine the Zaydi elites, with an aim to consolidating a religiously unified territory. In response to the marginalisation faced by Zaydi’s, the Houthi’s nurtured a network of ‘Believing Youth’, and increasingly adopted Shi’ite symbols similar to those common in Iran, thus sowing the seeds of sectarianism which eventually led to several rounds of conflict with the Yemeni government between 2004 and 2010. This was followed by failed negotiations at the National Dialogue Conference in 2013-2014, which led to the Houthi capturing of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and continuing to march south to consolidate the west coast of Yemen. This has since developed into a civil war between the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the Houthis, who at this time started to receive increased levels of support from Iran and Hezbollah.

The Houthi’s political arm, known as ‘Ansar Allah’ (Partisans of God), is positioned directly in line with their religious ideology. Their political influence, however, extends further than their originating religious and geographical roots. Whilst the Zaydi population makes up roughly 30% of the Yemeni population, the Houthis now control the geographic territory which holds roughly 66% of the Yemeni population, which is 20 million people. Politically, the Houthis strategy for attacking ships in the Red Sea have several layers to them. Domestically within Yemen, the Houthis can frame their attacks as a ‘Just War’, appealing to the population of Yemen based on moral and religious propaganda. This serves as a recruitment tool, as well as a political tool, both to legitimise the Houthis in Yemen, and against the Yemeni government.

In the Middle East and internationally, the Houthi’s strategy in the Red Sea serves as a publicity and bargaining tool, achieving the dual purpose of garnering international attention to amplify their message, as well as increasing their power in the political sphere to leverage an end to the war with Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. By proving their military capabilities in the Red Sea, the Houthis have applied pressure to Saudi Arabia and their coalition, who are likely to want to end direct conflict to focus on their internal economic and tourism industries.

By posturing as moral fighters in a ‘Just War’, the Houthis have used their Red Sea strategy to gain political legitimacy, bolster support within a suffering Yemeni population, and gain political power in the Middle East. Whilst Iran are the key enablers for the Houthis complex attacks due to the advanced weapons systems that they provide, they are not steering the Houthis politically. It is highly likely that the Houthis will continue to use their current Red Sea strategy in order to consolidate their power and territory in Yemen and achieve political legitimacy. It is assessed with high confidence that political leverage over the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, is the driving force behind the Houthis Red Sea strategy.

Russian and Chinese Intelligence Operations in the UK and Germany (April 2024)

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Key Judgements:

  • There has been a recent surge of Russian and Chinese backed espionage operations in regions across Western and Southern Europe. These operations have greatly affected the security of Western and Southern Europe and demonstrate that both Russia and China are gearing towards a more active stance to focus on undermining European Security.
  • Operations of this nature are likely to continue to be employed by both the Russian and Chinese intelligence services and are highly likely to continue to be a persistent and adamant threat to the security of Western and Southern Europe both now and in the near future.

Over the course of April 2024, there have been multiple incidents of Russian and Chinese backed espionage operations which have occurred in the regions of Western and Southern Europe. Of course, intelligence agencies such as Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (the SVR), Russia’s Military Intelligence Service (the GRU) and the Chinese Intelligence Agency, the Ministry of State Security (the MSS) have a history of launching espionage operations across Western and Southern Europe for the purposes of destabilising and undermining security in the region. As recently as March 2024, a Russian hacking group known as APT29 or “Cosy Bear”, targeted German opposition politicians by sending them malware laced emails, inviting them to attend a dinner party and to fill out an online questionnaire. ATP29 who works for the SVR, used the incident in an attempt to gain access to sensitive computer systems run by Germany’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) in an effort to compromise and influence the German political landscape. Fortunately, the SVR’s operation was detected by Mendicant, a US cyber security company, who raised the issue with Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In response, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution issued a warning to all German political parties making them aware of the SVR’s malicious activities.

Like the SVR, the GRU have also been active in Western and Southern Europe, with one source noting that “there is now growing evidence that Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service… and its Military Intelligence Agency… are aggressively trying to rebuild their human espionage networks – particularly with an eye toward military aid going to Ukraine.” Looking towards the MSS, between 2019 and 2022, Daniel Woo, an MSS Officer actively pushed a former Belgian senator, Frank Creyelman to directly use his status to influence discussions in Europe on multiple issues including “China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong to its persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang”. What’s clear from these historical examples are that Chinese and Russian backed operations are widespread from an operational perspective and that they actively aim and achieve to undermine the security of nations across Western and Southern Europe. This trend as we shall see has continued to rear its ugly head over the course of April 2024, serving as a reminder that both Russia and China are gearing towards a more aggressive and active stance in their operations across the region.

Over the duration of April 2024, Germany saw a surge of arrests of suspected spies for the Chinese and Russian Intelligence Agencies, with six suspects being arrested across the nation. In one of these cases, two German-Russian nationals only identified publicly as Dieter S, 39 and Alexander J, 37 were arrested in the southern German state of Bavaria on suspicion of spying for the GRU. Both men are accused of scouting and conducting reconnaissance on a US military base “at Grafenwöhr, Bavaria, where Ukrainian soldiers are being trained to use M1 Abrams tanks”, and at other industrial/transport sites in Germany with the aim to conduct arson and explosive attacks on these sites in an attempt to undermine Germany’s military exports to Ukraine. Dieter S has specifically been accused of “a string of offences, including plotting an explosion, arson and maintaining contact with Russian intelligence”, while Alexander J is accused of helping Dieter S since March 2024 to “identify potential targets for the attack”. Other Prosecutors believe that Dieter S is alleged to have discussed potential sabotage operations in Germany with his GRU contact since as early as October 2023. Given that Germany “is the second largest donor of military aid after the US, earmarking some €28 billion since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022”, it should come as no surprise that the GRU is keen to inflict as much harm and damage as they can on military exports to Ukraine coming from Germany and by proxy, the US. Because of Germany’s large military exports to Ukraine, the country has become an attractive target for the Russian Intelligence Services, with one source noting that “Germany has emerged as a leading target for Russian clandestine operations in Europe.” German officials summoned Russian ambassador Sergei Nechaev in response to the foiled GRU operation, however, the Russian Embassy in Berlin claimed that he was presented with “no proof” that the suspects are connected with the GRU. Moreover, the Russian embassy denounced and dismissed German accusations that the GRU were planning to attack military and industrial facilities, calling the accusations “absurd and ridiculous” whilst also commenting, “we made it clear that any unfriendly actions against Russia will not go without consequences.”  Whilst the foiling of this clandestine operation may be seen as a short-term victory for German counterintelligence, the fact that Germany is a high value target for Russia’s Intelligence Services unveils the possibility that more attempts by the GRU to undermine Germany’s military exports to Ukraine are highly likely to occur both now and in the near future.

The MSS, like the GRU have also been active in Germany over April 2024. Out of the six individuals apprehended in Germany in over the month on espionage charges, 4 out of the 6 are linked to the MSS. Thomas R, Herwig F and Ina F were arrested by German authorities on April 17, 2024, for allegedly supplying information and intelligence on military technology to the MSS. All three suspects are “strongly suspected of having worked for the Chinese Secret Service since an unspecified date before June 2022”. In an official press release, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office stated that “Thomas R acts as an agent for the employee of the Chinese Secret Service MSS who is staying in China. On behalf of this person, Thomas R obtained information on military-usable innovative technology in Germany”. Thomas R is alleged to have cooperated with  Herwig F and Ina F who ran a company in Düsseldorf which was used to contact people within German science and technology research organisations. Through an MSS employee and the Düsseldorf-ran company, the trio were able to gain, collect and pass on sensitive information “including designs for an engine suitable for use of combat ships” onto China. This project was directed and financed by the MSS. At the time of their arrest, “the accused were in further negotiations on research projects which could be useful for the expansion of China’s maritime combat power in particular”. The trio are also accused of creating “a special laser from Germany on behalf of and with payment of the MSS and exported it to China without permission”. The laser is banned under the EU Dual Use regulations which prohibits sending goods which can be used for both military and civilian purposes to certain countries.

In a separate and unrelated incident, which occurred in the UK in April 2024, Christopher Cash, 29, a parliamentary researcher and Christopher Berry, 32 were charged under the Official Secrets Act with allegedly spying for China after they allegedly handed over information which could be considered to be “useful to an enemy”. The pair have been accused of passing on “articles, notes, documents or information” to China. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy commented “I would like to already reaffirm that the claim that China is suspected of ‘stealing British Intelligence’ is completely fabricated and nothing but malicious slander”. Circling back to Germany, a German employee for the European Parliament and a member of the German political party Alternate for Deutschland (AfD), Jian Guo was arrested in April 2024 in Dresden, for repeatedly passing on information about German parliamentary decisions to Chinese intelligence services. Guo is a duel German Chinese citizen and is alleged to have committed espionage activities by “posing as a critic of the Chinese Government and joining dissident groups of Chinese expatriates in Germany. He would then provide information about the activities of these groups to Chinese intelligence”. In similar fashion to the unrelated case in the UK, China yet again dismissed any accusations that came its way as nonsense.

Both officials in Germany and the UK have branded the foiling of these cases as a success in the realm of counterintelligence yet one must bear in mind that these incidents in fact show that both Russia and China have actively sought to increase their meddling and degrading of the security of Western and Southern Europe, especially since the inception of the Russo Ukraine war. Whilst successes must always be seen as a good thing, especially in the world of intelligence, one must be aware that there are and will be plenty of more opportunities for the Russian and Chinese Intelligence Services to continue to disrupt and exploit the security and political landscapes of Western and Southern Europe both now and in the near future. With a string of individuals being arrested in both Germany and the UK over the course of the month for espionage related activities, one can draw the conclusion that it is highly likely that clandestine operations of this nature which are backed or directly funded by the MSS and Russia’s Intelligence Services are likely to press on into the future, repeating and reappearing with both surprise and frequency whilst simultaneously continuing to be a pressing security issue for regions across Western and Southern Europe.

Russian 2024 Spring Offensive

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Key Judgements:

  • The Russian Spring Offensive would likely be targeting Kharkiv.
  • Russia is likely to be able to establish a buffer zone to stop Ukrainian strikes against the Belgorod region.
  • It is unlikely that Russia would be able to take control of the whole Kharkiv region, including the city of Kharkiv.
  • It is realistically possible that the Russian Spring offensive would increase sceptical public opinion in the West, affecting the upcoming election. It is unlikely that this would directly convert into stopping Ukraine support.

Throughout history, the conflict in Eastern Europe has aligned with the natural rhythm of the seasons. The period of cold weather and mud, known as ‘Rasputitsa,’ significantly impacts the region, particularly in Ukraine. Rasputitsa has served as a formidable obstacle, a ‘wall of nature,’ for both Nazi Germany and Napoleon’s Grand Army during their respective invasions of Russia. In an ironic twist, the Russian military has become the most recent casualty of Rasputitsa.

In 2024, the Ukraine conflict reached a stalemate as neither side achieved significant progress despite multiple offensives in Eastern Ukraine. The combat revolved around trenches and bunkers, with both parties relying heavily on artillery and drones. Furthermore, long-range missiles and drones targeted vital infrastructure of both nations. The Russian military focused on damaging Ukraine’s infrastructure, including power plants, railroads, and broadcasting systems, while Ukraine countered by conducting sabotage inside Russia and striking near border cities. Despite the lack of advancement on the front lines, Russia aimed to weaken Ukraine’s society and force them to surrender on Russian terms.

In the year 2024, Western support for Ukraine has been unwavering, despite the ongoing conflict and political instability in the region. In April, the US Congress and Senate passed a bill to provide aid to Ukraine, which could potentially empower its military and help it withstand the long-standing challenges faced in the region. However, despite the continued support, there are signs of waning public opinion and political will to continue supporting Ukraine. The general population in the West is experiencing a sense of fatigue and disillusionment after years of conflict and instability in the region. Moreover, with several significant elections looming in the European Parliament, the UK, and the US, the current policy towards Ukraine could significantly change. It is important to note that the former US President Donald Trump had a pro-Russian stance in his foreign policy, which could have a significant impact on the future of Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, 2024 could prove to be a critical turning point for both Ukraine and its Western allies.

It is likely that President Putin, having been re-elected in 2024, will view this as an opportunity to establish his exit strategy in the Ukraine war and demonstrate to the Russian public that NATO has been defeated. Due to natural constraints, large-scale military operations are only feasible during the Spring, which has led Ukrainian and Western experts to anticipate an impending Russian offensive. Considering these circumstances, this forthcoming offensive is of critical importance to both Russia and Ukraine.

It appears that the current offensive in the north is directed towards Kharkiv City, which happens to be Ukraine’s second largest city. Over the past few months, the city has been subjected to drone and missile attacks that have primarily targeted its infrastructure. Recently, the Russian MOD announced that Moscow’s troops had taken control of several villages including Pletenivka, Ohirtseve, and Borysivka. It seems that the Russian forces are trying to establish a buffer zone that would prevent Ukrainian strikes into the Russian region that borders northern Ukraine. Belgorod, a Russian city, has been a major target of Ukrainian sabotage and bombing for months. In March, President Putin alluded to the possibility of creating a “sanitary zone” in Ukrainian territory that adjoins Belgorod. If the buffer zone is established, Russian forces would be able to target Kharkiv with their vast artillery capability. The current offensive in Northern Ukraine suggests that Russia has chosen to advance in a region that is less fortified than Eastern Ukraine.

According to several reports, it appears that the Russian forces stationed in northern Ukraine are facing challenges in terms of both quality and quantity. It is estimated that there are around 50,000 to 70,000 Russian personnel in the area, but a Russian opposition outlet reported in March that an additional 300,000 personnel would be required to encircle Kharkiv. Given that the total number of Russian forces in Ukraine is roughly 510,000, it seems unlikely that they could fully encircle Kharkiv without either utilizing forces from the Eastern Front or compromising their efforts. Additionally, the Russian forces stationed in the north have suffered significant losses over the past three years of war, and this trend is continuing.

Although there is a possibility that Russia may deploy additional units to aid the Kharkiv offensive in Ukraine, it is unlikely for several reasons. Over the course of three years of war, Russia has resorted to conscripting from its own population, including prisoners and foreign mercenaries, resulting in a significant number of Russian citizens fleeing to neighbouring countries and heightened public resistance. Putin has responded with severe political violence, including the death of Alexei Navalny and the detainment of journalists and activists labelled as “extremists.” In March, President Putin signed a degree for the routine spring conscription campaign, calling for 150,000 citizens to serve in the military. While it is realistically possible that Russia could conscript additional troops for this offensive, it remains doubtful that these forces would be able to be deployed to northern Ukraine, even if a surprise conscription were conducted.

Even in the best-case scenario for Russian forces, it would be impossible for them to achieve victory through force against Ukraine. As a result, Russia has shifted its focus towards persuading both Ukraine and the Western world to cease providing aid to Ukraine, and ultimately accept a peace deal in Russia’s favour. While a victory in northern Ukraine could potentially influence public opinion in the West, it is unlikely that Putin’s desired outcome would come to fruition. The Russian threat is increasingly concerning, particularly for Eastern European countries such as Poland, Moldova, and the Baltic nations. With an aggressive stance towards the West and a growing number of Russian espionage incidents, most European countries, with the exception of Hungary, maintain their stance against Russia. The majority of EU countries still view supporting Ukraine as a top priority for the newly elected European parliament, even though losing belief of Ukraine’s total victory. It is possible that the successful Russian offensive could align with Trump’s goal of improving the US-Russia relationship. President Trump has expressed his belief that US-Russian policy is unreasonable and has publicly stated that he would end the ongoing Ukraine conflict during his second term in office. However, even if President Trump were to get re-elected in November 2024, his term would not start until January 2025, and balanced House and Senate would not be able to expedite Trump’s drastic foreign policy that would demolish US led world alliance.

In conclusion, Russia’s spring offensive is one of the best exit strategies for Russia, and for President Putin. Replacing defence minister Sergei Shoigu on 12 May could be one of indicator that Putin has high hope for 2024. However, it seems unlikely that Putin’s high hope in this offensive would become reality. Without dramatic development in the frontline or Western countries, it is likely that Russia would still remain in self-made dilemma in Ukraine.

The Clash of Longstanding Rivals: A Turning Point in the Middle East?

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This paper delves into the recent escalation between Iran and Israel, focusing on the aerial assault targeting the Iranian consulate in Damascus at the beginning of the month and Iran’s response through a missile operation directed at Israel on April 14th. It evaluates the scale of the attacks, their impact on regional stability, and the diplomatic consequences. The analysis further assesses the risk of additional escalation and the difficulties faced by international efforts aimed at decreasing tensions in the Middle East.

As a result of an aerial assault on April 1, that targeted the Iranian consulate in Damascus, thirteen people were killed including a senior commander in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and his deputy General Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi. Iran deemed this assault a violation of its sovereignty and issued a threat of retaliation. In response, Iran launched a missile operation targeting Israel on April 14th, hitting multiple targets simultaneously. This marked the initial frontal strike witnessed between the two adversaries after a significant period.

The Israeli military reported that Iran deployed over 300 drones and missiles against Israel. The assault consisted of a total of 170 drones and 30 guided missiles, along with a minimum of 110 long-range ballistic missiles.

Four missiles struck the Israeli airbase, aimed at the Nevatim air base located in the Negev desert in Southern Israel, base is to the country’s F-35 fighter jets. Although the Iranian army said that their blitz “successfully accomplished all its goals,” the actual impact was limited. Only minor damage occurred at the Nevatim Air Base in the southern region, and a 7-year-old child sustained injuries from fragments of an intercepted missile.  During the assault, sounds of explosives were detected in various locations, including Tel Aviv. As Israeli forces attempted to intercept the projectiles, air raid alarms were activated in over 720 locations and the detonations were also detected in Jerusalem.

Israel said that almost 99% of the incoming barrage was successfully intercepted, either before it entered Israeli territory or while it was over the nation. Israel, together with the US, UK, France, and Jordan, successfully intercepted drones and cruise missiles. Jordan has acknowledged that it shot down Iranian drones to defend national sovereignty. Jordan also granted Israeli airplanes limited access to its airspace. In addition, the Saudis are said to have shared intelligence with the US and monitored potential risks posed by Iranian-supported militant factions in Yemen.

In response, Israel retaliated by targeting Isfahan, a city of strategic significance that has several crucial facilities, such as military research and development centers and bases. In addition, Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant is situated in the neighbouring city of Natanz. The strike was more limited than anticipated, indicating a deliberate effort to discourage Iran without escalating the situation.

Israel was warned by Iran against launching a response. Major General Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, claimed on state television that Iran’s retaliatory measures would be “significantly more extensive” than the assault if Israel retaliates. Washington was also cautioned by Iran that support for Israeli retaliation could result in the targeting of American bases.

As the likelihood of a spillover conflict in the Middle East grows, an increasing number of Western and Middle Eastern nations are concerned about what’s to come. Another conflict in the Middle East is something that ‘we cannot afford’ as UN Security Council Secretary Antonio Guterres stated.

The escalation between Iran and Israel poses a regional threat of destabilisation to an already unstable area. Israel is currently dealing with the violence emerging from Iran-backed militia groups along its border, including Hezbollah; therefore, an actual confrontation would be a very challenging conflict to manage.

The escalation between Iran and Israel presents also diplomatic challenges that have the potential to disrupt regional stability and international relations. The participation of nations including France, Jordan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia adds a layer of complexity to the attempts aimed at mitigating tensions and achieving a peaceful resolution.

To sum up, further escalation of the tensions between the two states and the failure of diplomatic negotiations to defuse it could have additional repercussions for regional security. Amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Middle East is already affected by serious unrest, including attacks and counterattacks in Iraq involving the US, and confrontations in Syria and Lebanon.

Somali piracy amid Houthi disruption

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Key Judgments:

  1. We assess that Somali pirates pose a heightened threat to commercial ships. The rise in Somali piracy in this region is seen as an opportunistic approach to their activities, rather than a strategic approach, and is due to the disruptions that have been caused by Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. (High Confidence).
  2. Somali pirates are almost certainly not collaborating with the Houthis. We assess that their recent resurgence is out of opportunism, not support for the Houthis. (High Confidence).

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th of 2023, which since has resulted in a regional escalation of conflict. Since November 2023, the Houthi’s have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in order to damage Israeli trade, as well as gain support from the Yemeni population under the guise of a ‘Just War’. In reality, the Houthi’s attacks on commercial shipping have been indiscriminate, resulting in massive changes to global supply chains. In an effort to avoid the potential for attack in the Red Sea, commercial ships have opted to instead travel south and go around the African continent via the Cape of Good Hope route. Due to the deterioration of maritime security in the southern Red  Sea and Gulf of Aden region, Somali pirates have increased their operations in waters off the coast of Somalia and in the wider Indian Ocean area, adding another threat to vessels transiting this region. This report aims to assess the likely involvement of Iran and/or the Houthis in Somali activities, and the threat posed to commercial ships by Somali pirates.

In the first quarter of 2024, there have been 33 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery against commercial ships globally, which is up from 27 in the same period in 2023, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Of these 33 incidents, 5 have been attributed to Somali pirates and include activities such as hijackings, approaching and firing upon a vessel, and taking the crew hostage of a Bangladeshi flagged bulk carrier in March of 2024. The bulk carrier was hijacked by around 20 Somali pirates approximately 550 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, demonstrating their ability to operate far off the coast, as well as their mounting capabilities from skiffs onto larger vessels. Despite this, however, it must be noted that while 5 events attributed to Somali pirates have occurred in Q1 of 2024, 358 events of attempted and successful piracy occurred from 2010 to 2015. This is important to contextualise the scale of current attacks, being nowhere near the level that it was between 2010-2017. This suggests that while there is cause for concern in the rise of Somali piracy, it is also not a strategic resurgence of piracy. Rather, it is an opportunistic moment for the pirates to take advantage of the disruption caused by the Houthi’s in Yemen, and the increase in vessel traffic within their vicinity. As a result, we assess that Somali pirates pose a heightened threat to commercial ships. Vessels transiting the Indian Ocean and near waters off Somalia are advised to remain vigilant and on high alert. (High Confidence).

The timing of the resurgence of piracy has led to questions being asked as to whether the Somali pirates and the Houthi’s are collaborating in their effort to disrupt commercial shipping in the region. This is plausible as Iran has established links with the jihadist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Iran uses these links to smuggle Iranian oil into Somalia and then sell it at cheap prices in Africa to avoid U.S. sanctions and to supply arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran is also said to have provided Al-Shabaab with financial and material support and may have paid rewards to militants to attack US and international forces in Somalia and the region. For example, on January 5, 2020, two days after the former head of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad, Al-Shabab launched an attack on a military base used by US and Kenyan forces in coastal Lamu, Kenya. Al-Shabab did not say its attack was linked to Soleimani’s killing, but the timing of the attack and al-Shabab’s “history of opportunistic strikes” suggests that the two events may have been linked. This analysis ties Iran and Al-Shabab together through trade and financial support, however this does not necessarily spill over to Somali pirates and the Houthis. Whilst indirect ties via Iran and Al-Shabab may imply some sort of connection, we have assessed that this is very unlikely. The limited scale of attacks from Somali pirates, as well as the lack of coordination between targets, leads us to assess that Somali pirates are almost certainly not collaborating with the Houthis. We assess that their recent resurgence is out of opportunism, not support for the Houthis. (High Confidence).