Saudi-led forces launch assault on Yemen's key Red Sea port of Hodeidah

Dubai (Platts)--13 Jun 2018 528 am EDT/928 GMT

Saudi-led coalition forces launched a major air and naval assault on Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeidah early Wednesday, according to media reports, marking a turning point in the three year conflict, and escalating tensions in the Gulf region.

Hodeidah is the last port in Yemen still under the control of Houthi militants after three years of conflict. Saudi Arabia accuses regional rival Iran of backing the Houthis and using the port to smuggle weapons.

The conflict has frequently threatened to spill into the shipping lanes of the southern Red Sea, as well as endangering the startup of the new 400,000 b/d Jizan refinery by state-energy giant Saudi Aramco later this year.

Some 4.8 million b/d of oil and products passed through the Red Sea in 2016, nearly 5% of global maritime trade, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The entry point, known as the Bab el-Mandab strait, is the key choke point between the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa, a major trade artery for Saudi Arabia. Capturing Hodeidah has long been a key strategic goal of the Saudi-led coalition to cut off the Houthi's ability to resupply with long range missiles and force them to negotiate an end to the devastating war. Over the last few months, analysts have likened the forces to a snake coiling for a strike. The assault came after a final ultimatum was delivered on June 10 to the UN to convince the Houthis in Hodeidah to give up thew city.

The Houthis, who still control the Yemeni capital Sanaa and territory in the north, have launched a number of ballistic missiles over the border, targeting Saudi Arabia's Jizan province and reaching as far as the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The latest was fired at around 3 am, according to Saudi media reports.

The assault could prove a turning point in the three year war. "It opens the path for the Saudis to come to the negotiating table, as the Houthis would not have any access to the sea, and thus Iran," one Yemeni analyst said Wednesday.

But there are also risks. The London-based Crisis Group warned earlier this week a prolonged battle could leave millions of Yemenis without food, fuel and other vital supplies, and would discourage a return to the negotiating table.

Mike Knights, a Yemen analysts with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also said there could be an increase in missile launches as the noose tightens around the port, as well as more disruption to maritime traffic in the Red Sea.

--Adal Mirza,

--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,

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