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Houthi Militias escalate war by targeting underwater Internet Cables

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After damaging ships in Red Sea, this seabad warfare alarms the west

By Girish Linganna

“The Telegraph reports that the Policy Exchange warns of the emergence of seabed warfare, highlighting the potential for Iran-backed militias to intensify their actions in the Gaza conflict.” A recent report has issued a warning that Houthi rebels might target the underwater internet cables of Britain.

A report from Policy Exchange, a think tank, warns that the Houthis could escalate their involvement in the conflict by extending their activities into the subsea domain, specifically by targeting underwater cables.

Undersea cables play a crucial role as essential infrastructure for digital connectivity, consisting of around 500 fibre-optic cables that span the ocean's floor globally. British firms, including British Telecom, are part of consortia owning cables in the Red Sea, with British Telecom holding an interest in the significant AAE-1 cable that stretches from Europe, through Africa, to Asia.

The AAE-1 (Asia-Africa-Europe-1) cable is a 25,000 km submarine communications cable system from South East Asia to Europe across Egypt, connecting countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. This cable system is designed to provide telecommunications services like internet access, data transfer, and other forms of digital communication, enhancing connectivity between these regions.

Policy Exchange has raised alarms that groups supported by Iran, such as the Houthis and Hezbollah, have suggested through their official social media accounts the possibility of targeting these cables.

Additionally, it alerts that the Houthis have received training in combat diving and have access to various naval mines capable of damaging cables located at less deep waters. The report suggests that although these groups currently lack the advanced equipment needed for underwater military operations, Iran has the potential to supply them with such capabilities. The report indicates that cables located in the less deep areas of the Red Sea are at risk from more basic forms of sabotage, including being cut or targeted with mines.

The report also mentioned that although Iran relies on this infrastructure for its own connections, should there be a conflict threatening the regime's existence, it might consider these cables as strategic targets. The recent report emphasized the need to safeguard the cables, which are responsible for “99 percent of the UK's digital communications with the rest of the .”

The report further stated, “Our societal, economic, political, and military frameworks are completely dependent on our capacity to monitor and secure the cables located within and outside our territorial waters.”

In Monday's report, Air Chief Marshal Lord Peach, the former chairman of the NATO military committee, told the press, “The attack on maritime shipping by the Houthis, supported by Iran, has shown how easily our foes can cause disruption on the surface of the water; there is increasing worry they may begin to do the same beneath it.”

He referred to undersea cables as “the invisible lifelines of worldwide communication,” whose importance “goes well beyond digital connections, supporting the robustness of our economic systems, the effectiveness of our defense mechanisms, and the unity of our contemporary societies.”

The recent report, endorsed by prominent political figures such as Sir Michael Fallon, the former Secretary, and Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, calls on the Government to formulate a strategy aimed at “securing defense and deterrence in underwater areas.”

Furthermore, the report suggests that the Government should provide “more specific instructions” to the Ministry of Defence and the owners of the cables, who are frequently from the private sector, regarding “the start and finish of their responsibilities in cable protection.”

The report also advocates for increased collaboration with allies to further deter aggressive underwater actions, specifically identifying Iran and China as countries capable of disrupting cable networks, underscoring the arrival of the ‘Era of seabed warfare.'

The report further emphasizes that the UK and its allies need to be prepared and capable of countering and disrupting any hostile actions towards our essential underwater maritime infrastructure.

In reaction to the report, Jeremy Quin, a Conservative MP and the chair of the defence select committee, remarked, “Seabed warfare has made its entrance in the Euro-Atlantic area, and it's likely that other contentious areas will experience similar developments.”

The US and UK have carried out airstrikes on Houthi strongholds in Yemen in an effort to prevent further assaults. This action follows the Pentagon's confirmation on Sunday that American and British forces executed an additional five “self-defense strikes” against the Houthis.

A statement from the US Central Command mentioned that these strikes aimed at what was noted as the “initial detected use of an unmanned underwater vehicle by the Houthis” since the onset of hostilities. (IPA Service)

 

(The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.)

 

 

 

Northlines
Northlines
The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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