Ravaged by over seven years of war, Yemen continues to witness escalating violence as 2022 begins. Last week, pro-government forces fighting on behalf of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seized the energy-rich Shabwah province. After successfully pushing out fighters loyal to the Houthi movement from Shabwah, the loose coalition of pro-government forces continues its campaign in neighboring Marib province.
Largely overshadowed by these rapid developments on the ground were reports of Houthi fighters seizing a UAE vessel traveling through the Red Sea. The pro-government coalition stated that the vessel was carrying medical supplies from Yemen’s Socotra Island to the Saudi city of Jazan, while the Houthis claim the vessel was a military cargo ship transporting weapons, vehicles and other equipment.
Regardless of what cargo this particular vessel was actually carrying, the incident underscores the strategic centrality of the waterways off Yemen’s shores and the islands located in them, namely Mayun—also known as Perim—and the Socotra Archipelago. In addition to being located in one of the world’s most critical maritime routes, these islands are also at the crossroads of numerous political, economic and security competitions within the region and globally. Control over them will be a significant geopolitical flashpoint in the Middle East in 2022 and beyond, with both regional and global ramifications.