Since November, the Yemen-based Houthi rebel group has conducted at least 30 attacks against ships transiting the Red Sea to or from the Suez Canal. Since late December, a US-led coalition of 20 countries has been providing protection for commercial ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.1
In January, land-locked Ethiopia signed an agreement with Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, to gain access to the port of Berbera and some coastline along the Gulf of Aden.2 In exchange, Ethiopia became the first country to recognize Somaliland as an independent state, which has sparked controversy in the region.
The Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group have been fighting a civil conflict for more than nine months, further heightening instability near the Red Sea.
The risk of geopolitical disruption to ocean-based commercial transportation in and near the Red Sea (and other busy maritime chokepoints) is likely to persist in the near and medium term, as discussed in the EY 2024 Geostrategic Outlook.
The US-led coalition will continue to provide security to ships transiting the region and to conduct strikes against Houthi targets, especially if a cargo vessel or warship suffers heavy damage and fatalities. This could lead to escalation by Houthi militants or other Iran-backed groups against US or UK targets elsewhere in the region.
Recent US and UK airstrikes against Houthi targets are unlikely to significantly deter further attacks on shipping though they will likely limit Houthi capabilities. The Houthis claim their attacks relate to the conflict in Gaza, so are unlikely to cease hostilities while it is ongoing.
Somalia will continue to push against Ethiopia’s port deal with Somaliland, as the African Union and other external parties are likely to continue to call for a peaceful resolution. Any conflict would likely further destabilize maritime routes in the area.
Sudan's civil conflict is spreading eastward, signaling potential further instability close to the Red Sea.3 An RSF victory is seen as increasingly likely, though, so a resolution of the conflict may be possible in the coming months. RSF leader General Dagalo’s recent meetings with leaders from Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda may indicate a shift in perceptions regarding the legitimacy of a potential future RSF-led government, at least within the region.