The intensifying attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels is a concerted and unsettling effort by Iran to “defeat the United States” and “spread the Iranian Islamic revolution,” experts caution.

“We are pretending we’re not at war. But the Iranians and the Houthis are at war with us,” Bill Roggio, senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Post Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Iran-backed militants launched a fresh attack on another vessel in the Red Sea – a critical shipping artery – targeting a container ship en route from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan with naval missiles.

The group has launched at least 100 attacks against 14 different commercial and merchant vessels in the Red Sea over the past month, a senior US military official said last week, CNN reported.

But sinking ships is not the higher goal of the attacks, according to Roggio.

“The act of targeting itself is sufficient,” the military expert said.

“The Houthis and the Iranians are dictating the transit of maritime vessels on the high seas. This is incredible and the world seems powerless to stop it.”

Houthi forces stepped up attacks on vessels passing through the Bab al-Mandab Straits — the southernmost entry into the Red Sea and a vital corridor for commerce in the Mediterranean — after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, claiming they were only targeting vessels bound for the Jewish nation.

But the group has repeatedly fired on – and even boarded – ships without a clear connection to Israel.

The attacks have become such a problem that five of the world’s biggest shipping companies, including Maersk, BP, and MSC Mediterranean, have halted their operations in the Red Sea.

Dictating the terms of passage through one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes and disrupting trade across the world is the true aim of the Houthis – and part of an Iranian plot to expel the US from the Middle East, Roggio said.

“This is all part of a greater Iranian plan to defeat the United States, to get the US to abandon the Middle East, so it could spread the Iranian Islamic revolution in Iraq and Syria, in Lebanon. To defeat Israel to defeat the Saudis,” he explained.

“The Houthis are playing their part.”

The Houthis have controlled the Yemeni capital since 2015 and have been leading a civil war against Saudi-backed forces to take full control of the country.

They are just one of many extremist groups in the region — including Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah — that receive their backing and marching orders from Iran and call themselves the “Axis of Resistance.”

“These are the militias, Shia militias primarily, that are backed, that are supported, funded, trained by the Iranians. The Iraqi militias and the Syrian militias that are attacking US bases in Iraq and Syria,” Roggio said.

If the Houthis can disrupt trade in the region significantly enough to force the hand of the US into persuading Israel to give up its campaign to completely eradicate Hamas in Gaza, it would be a major victory for Iranian influence in the world.

“If Hamas survives this war, it is a defeat for Israel and a victory for the Axis of Resistance and victory for Iran,” Roggio explained.

“They will prove that Iran and its allies can direct the political outcomes of the wars in the Middle East.”

The US has responded to the escalating Red Sea attacks by dispatching the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier group to the region under Operation Prosperity Guardian, launched on December 18.

On Tuesday, US forces shot down a barrage of Houthi missiles and attack drones during a 10-hour onslaught in the Red Sea.

But Roggio warns that such a strategy of defense, without aggression, is useless.

He argued that the Biden administration’s unwillingness to respond with force is a victory for Iran.

“We are teaching our enemies and adversaries that we are not serious that we shouldn’t be taken seriously,” he said.

Rather than the US fearing escalation, Roggio added, Biden needs to make the Iranians fear the US.

“We don’t have to go full-blown war with Iran. But we certainly have the capacity to make the Iranians pay,” he insisted.

“If the Iranians want to play that game, you have to call their bluff. Otherwise, they’re just going to continue. What they’re doing now is succeeding, it’s shutting down international shipping. How long are we going to deal with that?”

Source » nypost