Al Mukalla: Maritime navigation and international trade in the Red Sea would not be safe as far as the Iran-backed Al Houthis control coastal areas in Yemen’s western coastline, military experts said.

Al Houthis’ threats to international ships that sail through the Red Sea reared its ugly head again on Tuesday when the militia hit a Saudi oil tanker in the international waters, west of the Yemeni city of Hodeida.

Despite surviving with a minor damage when a Saudi-coalition warship foiled the attack, the coalition said the attack reaffirms old fears that Al Houthis pose serious threats to the freedom of maritime navigation and rebels should be ousted from Hodeida and other coastal areas on the Red Sea.

In its statement, the coalition reiterated its previous plea to the United Nations to place Hodeida seaport under its supervision.

But if Al Houthis refuse to turn over the seaport’s management to the UN, the military option would be the only way to eliminate the Al Houthi threat and deprive them of key coastal areas where they smuggle in arms and stage missile attacks on ships. Brigadier Ali Naji Obeid, a military analyst, said on Sky News Arabia TV that Al Houthis control roughly 300km on the Red Sea where they launched attacks on American, Emirati and Saudi ships in the Red Sea over the last couple of years.

Obeid suggests reinforcing government forces in Medi in Hajjah province, north of Hodeida city, and Al Jarrahj town, south of Hodeida as they march towards Hodeida city.

“The Al Houthi threat is grave. Government forces battling Al Houthis along the western coast in Medi and Hodieda province should be supported in order to pressure Al Houthis more,” Obeid said.

Saudi warships were placed on high alert after Tuesday’s attack.

The international community should responsd to the Al Houthi threat to Red Sea maritime traffic just as they responded to the threat of Somali piracy, Obeid added.

Backed by massive air and military logistics support from the Saudi-led coalition, government forces launched an offensive early last year with the aim of denying Al Houthis access to the Red Sea and protect the strategic Bab Al Mandab Strait.

The forces have liberated strategic coastal towns like Mokha, Khokha, Hays and are now battling Al Houthis outside Al Jarrahj, south of Hodeida.