Yemen’s AnsarAlla threatens to cut fibre optic cable in the Red Sea and the region, Azernews reports, citing foreign media.
This will happen if the US and UK strike Yemen’s airports again.
Internet cables serve as communication channels between Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Taking them out of service would disrupt international lines of communication and hit global financial markets.
On December 24th, 2023, a Telegram channel linked to the Husis published a map showing the networks of submarine communications cables in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. The image was accompanied by an ominous message: “There are maps of international cables connecting all regions of the world through the sea. It seems that Yemen is in a strategic location, as internet lines that connect entire continents — not only countries—pass near it.”
While the statement did not specify a target, the threat coincides with perhaps the Husis most aggressive military campaign against ships in the Red Sea. Since mid-October 2023, the group has launched more than 100 drones and missiles at ships passing through the Bab el-Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. The attacks so disrupted ship operations that at least one major shipping company, Maersk, announced it was suspending shipping through the Red Sea and Suez Canal “until further notice.”
Instead, the diverted ships are forced to sail around Africa, significantly increasing transit time and shipping costs; these costs will almost certainly be passed on to consumers, driving up the prices of various goods around the world. While senior U.S. officials have emphasised that they have not yet noticed any price increases due to the blockade, the crisis eventually prompted the U.S. to create a new international maritime task force aimed at stopping the group’s attacks.
It is about the Asia Africa Europe-1 (AAE-1) system. It runs from Hong Kong to Marseille. Its total length is 25 thousand kilometres. The total capacity of AAE-1 is 40 terabits per second.
At the same time, AAE-1 is only one of 16 submarine cables running close to the Yemeni coast. The total capacity of all these cables is 180 terabits per second. These 16 cables carry 17 per cent of the world’s traffic.
AAE-1 is owned by a consortium of 17 telecom operators, each of which controls and is responsible for a different section of the route. The regional route in the Red Sea is assigned to Egyptian operator Telecom Egypt (EGX:ETEL) With China Unicom (SEHK:762) playing the coordinating role in the consortium
In 2022, the terrestrial section in Egypt had an accident, causing traffic to collapse by more than 90 per cent in Ethiopia, for example.
The problem with the Yemeni section is the shallow depth and the high concentration of submarine cables in one place. In fact, the threat of the Houthis is very real – they are capable of damaging most of all the cables in transit with a few explosions at shallow depths.
Repairing a blown up section looks problematic due to the fact that any repair expedition could be attacked by terrorists at any time. In addition, this does not preclude a second detonation at the same location or any other. In the case of a combined detonation, preliminary estimates suggest that repairs could take several months to several years.