The US is considering whether to provide support for a potential UAE-led operation to drive Houthi rebels out of the Port of Hodeidah in Yemen, a key strategic node in the ongoing civil war.
According to the Washington Post, Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary has sent a memo to the White House, asking to drop the Obama administration’s restrictions on military support for the Saudi coalition.
The port has been under the microscope since 2015 when Saudi airstrikes damaged cranes and also dissuaded international shipping lines from calling the port.
The United Nations (UN), which has warned that 17m Yemenis are at threat from famine, has rejected an appeal by the Arab coalition to place the port of Hodeidah, under its supervision.
At a UK parliamentary debate, Andrew Mitchell, the former minister for international development, said: “The Saudis are preventing the replacement cranes from getting into Hodeidah in spite of the fact that the Department for International Development urgently needs these cranes to unload vessels carrying aid, medicine and food.”
Margaret Ferrier, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, also noted that out of six loading cranes in the Port of Hodeidah, only one is functional.
Currently, Hodeidah is controlled by Houthi rebels and serves as a key entry point for aid reaching civilians in rebel-held areas, although critics claim the port is used for weapons smuggling. Yemen typically imports 90% of its food, thus exacerbating the problem.
Writing in Newsweek, Yemen’s ambassador to the United States Ahmed Awad BinMubarak said earlier in March: “For the Houthis, Hodeidah’s port proves to be a source of significant, albeit illegitimate, revenue from customs and taxes imposed on incoming goods. Recapturing Hodeidah is necessary to bring back stability to Yemen’s west coast.
“The presence of the Houthis in Hodeidah threatens international maritime navigation and shipping routes in the Red Sea. On numerous occasions, the Houthis have fired upon ships in international waters, and on three incidences US Navy ships were targeted prompting the US to launch retaliatory military strikes that destroyed radar installations controlled by the Houthi rebels.”