NATO’s Strategic Dynamics: Navigating Complex Geopolitical Landscapes from the Horn of Africa to Gaza, and Confronting Challenges in Yemen, China, and Russia

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In the intricate geopolitical landscape of the Horn of Africa, the Arab Gulf kingdoms are emerging as pivotal players, shaping the region’s future with their distinct strategies and aspirations. The intersection of their interests with the turbulent history and ongoing crises in the Horn of Africa sets the stage for complex dynamics, potentially leading to proxy wars, state fragmentation, and the spread of autocracy.

The Strategic Significance of the Horn of Africa

For the Gulf States, the Horn of Africa represents a crucial strategic perimeter. Their interests are multi-faceted: countering political threats, including a strong opposition to Islamist movements and suppression of democratic aspirations, and securing rich farmlands in anticipation of a post-carbon, food-insecure world. Each Gulf state envisions African client states aligning with their respective geopolitical agendas.

Proxy Wars and Regional Destabilization

The potential for proxy wars in northeast Africa is high, fueled by the varied interests of the Gulf States. This is evident in the recent deal between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Muse Bihi, President of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland. Ethiopia’s promise to recognize Somaliland as an independent state in exchange for a strategic land lease, including a seaport for a naval base, has stirred tensions, notably with Somalia and within the African Union. The deal, suspected to be backed by the UAE, is a clear deviation from Ethiopia’s traditionally cautious diplomacy and highlights the complexities of regional politics.

The recent Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal represents a significant development in the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa, escalating existing tensions and potentially reshaping regional dynamics. Signed on January 1, 2024, this agreement allows Ethiopia to develop a naval base on Somaliland’s coast. This move is significant considering Ethiopia’s status as a landlocked country since Eritrea’s secession in 1993 and its need for sea access to support its growing population. This development is analogous to Ethiopia’s earlier project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, in its strategic importance.

However, this deal has been met with considerable opposition from Somalia, which views Somaliland as part of its sovereign territory. Somalia has declared the agreement null and void, considering it an overt interference with its sovereignty, freedom, and unity. The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, emphasized that “no one has the power give away a piece of Somalia.” This stance has led Somalia to withdraw its ambassador to Ethiopia and has attracted criticism from other regional players like Egypt and Eritrea. The situation is further complicated by Somaliland’s ongoing quest for international recognition as an independent state, a status it declared in 1991 but has not yet gained widespread acceptance.

Moreover, the deal has been denounced by Somalia’s former president, Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, who maintains that Somaliland, as a region of the Federal Republic of Somalia, does not have the authority to enter such agreements. This position has led to increased military preparedness in Somalia and hints at potential military confrontations. Ethiopia’s offer to Somaliland of a stake in state-owned Ethiopian Airlines in return for Red Sea access adds another layer to the complex negotiation dynamics.

In response to these developments, Djibouti has mediated efforts to resume talks aimed at resolving disputes between Somalia and Somaliland. The tension surrounding this deal underscores the delicate and often volatile nature of the Horn of Africa’s geopolitical landscape, where regional and international interests frequently intersect and sometimes clash.

These developments are indicative of the changing political landscape in the Horn of Africa, which remains a region of significant strategic interest to various global and regional powers.

The Global Context: Red Sea Geopolitics

The Horn of Africa’s crises are not isolated but intertwined with broader global geopolitical dynamics. For the United States, the region’s issues are secondary compared to the Israel-Gaza war and tensions with Iran. The Red Sea, a vital corridor for world trade, is a focal point of international attention, with efforts like Operation Atalanta combating piracy and promoting maritime security. This narrow waterway is critical, and its closure, as seen after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, could have severe global trade implications.

The UAE’s Role and Regional Power Play

The UAE emerges as a key actor in the region, employing a strategy of power projection through proxies and support for separatist movements. Its involvement in Ethiopia and control over strategic ports highlight its significant influence. However, Abu Dhabi’s long-term strategic goals for the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa remain unclear. Their actions, once overlooked by the U.S., are now drawing criticism, especially regarding their role in Sudan.

The Shift in Regional Diplomacy and Governance

The traditional African diplomatic and governance norms are undergoing a shift. Principles like “sovereignty as responsibility,” championed by figures like Francis Deng, are being replaced by a new form of “neo-sovereigntism.” This shift is evident in the rehabilitation of leaders like Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and the rise of figures like Sudanese General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, who embody a more transactional, short-sighted approach to governance and diplomacy.

The Diminishing Role of International Organizations

The African Union and the United Nations, once pivotal in crafting peace agreements and promoting democracy in the region, are now facing challenges. Their influence is waning, as seen in the AU’s veering away from its founding principles and the UN’s reduced role in peacemaking. The InterGovernmental Authority on Development is also showing signs of division and ineffectiveness.

The Future of the Horn of Africa: A Call for Collective Action

The current trajectory in the Horn of Africa points towards increasing instability and the dominance of short-term, transactional politics. However, there remains an opportunity for a diplomatic forum that promotes collective security. While the U.S. and European powers have lost some of their influence, the onus of leadership could fall on Africa and the United Nations. By acting together, they could create a consensus that incorporates global powers like America, Europe, China, and Russia, framed by the agenda of stability and cooperation.

Hamas’s Attack into Israel and the Ensuing Middle East Political Earthquake

The recent escalation of violence in the Middle East, marked by Hamas’s attack into Israel and the subsequent brutal response by Israel with support from the United States, signifies a seismic shift in the region’s political landscape. The implications of this conflict extend far beyond the immediate parties involved, reshaping the political and security dynamics across the Horn of Africa and challenging the existing peace and security architecture.

The Regional Ripple Effect of the Israel-Palestine War

The conflict has reverberated across the region, legitimizing and energizing protests and dissent. Hamas’s confrontation against Israel has been perceived as a bold challenge to a seemingly invincible adversary, leading to a surge in support even from those who previously criticized Hamas for its governance and tactics. This newfound boldness among Islamist groups is exemplified by the activities of Somalia’s al-Shabaab, which remains a significant threat as the African Union’s peacekeeping efforts in Somalia wind down.

Horn of Africa Dynamics and the Israel-Gaza-Hamas Conflict: A Comprehensive Analysis of Regional War Involvement

As Israel nears the conclusion of its essential counter-terrorism operations in Gaza, the pressing matter of Palestinian statehood inevitably comes to the forefront. This resurgence of debate is predictable, even as rewarding Hamas for its criminal actions remains a morally indefensible proposition. However, if Israel were to be persuaded that embracing a flawed “two-state solution” is a lesser evil compared to enduring endless warfare against terrorism, then serious consideration of the arguments for Palestinian statehood becomes inevitable.

The underlying motives behind the Palestinian statehood agenda may ultimately be irrelevant to Israel’s decision-making process. Israel’s approach will be governed by strategic considerations, irrespective of whether the two-state proposition is made with malicious intent or in good faith. A notable example of a well-meaning proponent of this approach is US President Joe Biden, who advocates for a two-state solution.

For Israel, the decision to either accept or reject a Palestinian state involves only detrimental choices. Accepting such a state would be inherently perilous, posing existential threats. Any Palestinian state would likely be irredentist, aiming for incremental sovereignty over the entirety of Israel, an area often referred to by Islamic adversaries as “occupied Palestine.” In a worst-case scenario, Israel’s defensive measures post-Gaza War might directly confront Iran as an enemy combatant. The possibility of Turkey aligning with Iran against Israel, though potentially mitigated by its NATO membership, cannot be discounted.

The implications of Iranian involvement in this conflict are profound for both Israel’s security and the region’s stability. Even if Iran were not a nuclear power, a conventional or unconventional conflict escalation with Israel might prompt Israel to consider the use of low-yield nuclear weapons, especially if Iran deployed radiation-dispersal weapons. Should Iran possess full nuclear capabilities, the Middle East risks becoming the epicenter of the world’s first, and possibly final, nuclear war.

An additional complexity arises from North Korea’s relationships with Iran and Syria, particularly in the realms of nuclear and missile technologies. Even a non-nuclear Iran could, through North Korean assistance, pose a nuclear-level threat to Israel. North Korea, with its advanced missile technology, even without sharing nuclear warheads, could precipitate an unforeseen nuclear conflict.

Israel must recognize that the issues of Palestinian statehood and nuclear conflict with Iran are interconnected and potentially synergistic. An already-nuclear or nuclearizing Iran would amplify the threats posed by a Palestinian state, and conversely, the emergence of a Palestinian state could exponentially increase Israel’s existential risks in a conflict with Iran.

The relationship between Palestinian statehood and the prospect of a nuclear war is likely synergistic, not merely intersectional. The combined negative impact on Israel could exceed the sum of its individual parts. However, the probability of a nuclear conflict between Israel and Iran remains incalculable, as historical data on nuclear wars is non-existent.

Since 2012, the Palestinian National Authority has held the status of a “Nonmember Observer State” at the UN. Following the Gaza War, should cooperation between the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas be restored, the emergence of a fully sovereign Palestine could create a platform for continuous jihadist aggression against Israel.

Israel must be acutely aware of the compounded threats from Iran and a potential Palestinian state. The visible but often overlooked threats of annihilation from both Iran and Palestine change the regional military balance and could lead to direct confrontations between Israel and Iran.

In this precarious context, Israel’s nuclear capabilities, while destabilizing, could be essential for deterring catastrophic aggression. Israel’s nuclear strategy, whether ambiguous or disclosed, is crucial for its survival, aimed at war prevention or mitigation rather than participation in nuclear warfare.

Iran’s enhancement of its cruise missile arsenal, even without nuclear warheads, escalates the risk-taking competition with Israel. Israel might need to shift from a policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity to selective nuclear disclosure, not to affirm its nuclear capability, which is already recognized by Tehran, but to convincingly deter Iranian leaders from escalating to nuclear conflict.

Ironically, the effectiveness of Israel’s nuclear deterrent might inversely correlate with its perceived destructiveness. An excessively destructive Israeli nuclear arsenal could paradoxically weaken its deterrent effect.

Legal considerations also play a role. The International Court of Justice’s 1996 ruling stated that the use of nuclear weapons could be lawful under extreme self-defense circumstances, where state survival is at risk. Given Israel

‘s small geographic size and vulnerability, even a single Iranian nuclear strike could be catastrophic, as underscored by an Iranian official’s 2015 comment that Israel is a “one-bomb state.”

Israel must therefore approach this complex scenario with analytic clarity and candor. Regional and global security perspectives suggest that Israel’s nuclear arsenal is not the primary issue; rather, it is the persistent genocidal intent in the Arab/Islamist ideology to eradicate Israel.

Confronted with the vision of a Palestine “free from the River to the Sea” – a Palestine replacing Israel – the Jewish State must recognize that Palestinian statehood is more than a tactical threat; it represents a cartographic genocide, as evidenced by Palestinian maps depicting Israel as “Occupied Palestine.”

Selective disclosure of Israel’s nuclear capabilities could more effectively deter a rational Iranian adversary from unconventional attacks and significant conventional aggressions. Furthermore, such a stance could justify Israel’s preemptive strikes against Iranian military targets, essential for Israel’s survival.

Without the acknowledged possession of survivable and penetration-capable nuclear weapons, Israel’s preemptive actions might provoke a broader conflict, as the threat of a devastating Israeli counter-retaliation would be less credible.

The decision to end Israel’s policy of “deliberate nuclear ambiguity” will not be straightforward. However, the evolving realities of a nuclear-capable Iran and other nuclear aspirants, possibly in concert with anti-Israel terrorists, necessitate a reevaluation of this policy. Additionally, Israel must clarify that its active defenses are designed to complement, not replace, its nuclear counterforce capabilities.

Israel’s security assessments must consider Palestinian statehood and Iranian nuclearization in tandem, acknowledging their complex interrelations. The cumulative impact of these issues is likely to be greater than their individual effects. The words of the poet Auden, “Defenseless under the night; our world in stupor lies,” should resonate as a prophetic warning in these times.

In summary, Israel faces a multi-dimensional challenge where Palestinian statehood and Iranian nuclear ambitions intersect, amplifying existential threats. Strategic, legal, and moral considerations all point towards the need for Israel to adapt its policies and posture, ensuring its survival in a rapidly changing and increasingly perilous regional landscape.

Kenya’s Balancing Act

Kenyan President William Ruto has expressed support for Israel while advocating for a ceasefire, highlighting Kenya’s pivotal role for U.S. and European security interests in the Horn of Africa. However, Kenya faces its own challenges, including the need for substantial financial aid to fulfill its security responsibilities in the region.

Egypt and Red Sea Security Concerns

The conflict has also drawn the attention of Egypt, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi balancing support for pro-Palestinian sentiments and maintaining domestic control. The Red Sea, a vital maritime route for Israel and Egypt, emerges as a crucial security concern. The significance of the Red Sea extends to its role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the international focus on securing naval bases in the region.

Saudi Arabia and UAE’s Growing Influence in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa, traditionally influenced by Middle Eastern powers, is witnessing an intensified presence of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These nations are navigating their own regional rivalries, especially in light of their differing stances on Israel and involvement in the ongoing conflicts in Sudan and Ethiopia.

Sudan’s Internal Struggle and Foreign Influence

In Sudan, the competition between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi plays out amid a backdrop of internal conflict and foreign intervention. The UAE’s support for General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo (“Hemedti”) and Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic maneuvers reflect the complex interplay of regional influences shaping Sudan’s future.

Ethiopia’s Tenuous Position

Ethiopia, under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, finds itself increasingly reliant on Emirati support. This support has been crucial in Ethiopia’s military campaigns, but also places the country in a precarious position regarding its regional ambitions and internal stability.

Houthi Attacks on Freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea Demand a Direct Response

It has been almost two months since Houthi forces first commandeered a container ship with ties to an Israeli businessman that was passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and one month since the group escalated their activities to drone and missile attacks against commercial ships in the Red Sea).

These aggressive actions have caused profound disruptions in international shipping, leading to substantial increases in freight rates and insurance costs . Many companies have opted to circumvent the Suez Canal and the Red Sea altogether, choosing instead to navigate around the Horn of Africa, a detour that can extend voyage durations by up to two weeks Ships continuing to utilize the Red Sea route have sought protection from a US naval destroyer, which has been actively engaged in efforts to thwart attacks on commercial vessels.

The urgency of a response to this direct challenge to the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea has finally come to the fore. The pivotal question now centers on whether the US and UK maritime strikes against Houthi positions will suffice or whether a broader response, encompassing ground operations against Houthi strongholds and the disruption of their Iranian sources of military equipment and support, will become necessary.

The Houthis have persistently engaged in launching missiles and drones at passing ships, viewing it as a low-risk, high-reward strategy to advance their domestic agenda. They have done so with the confidence that the United States, despite its military superiority, would not mount an invasion to overthrow them. Iran has also seized on this dynamic, amplifying its support for Houthi maritime attacks.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, after substantial expenditures and exertions in attempting to dislodge the Houthis from Yemen, have been hesitant to become embroiled in a direct conflict with the group. However, it is plausible to assume that Saudi Arabia endorses the US and UK response to Houthi attacks, given that these actions only commenced after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia on January 8 (January 8, 2024).

In the aftermath of the attacks, oil prices surged by 2 percent and climbed an additional 2 percent when trading commenced in the United States. This price escalation is commensurate with the gravity of the situation, considering that approximately 6.2 million barrels per day of crude oil and petroleum products typically traverse the Red Sea, destined for transit through either the Suez Canal or the Sumed pipeline in Egypt. This accounts for just over 9 percent of the total seaborne petroleum trade.

Furthermore, oil markets should duly factor in the heightened risk to oil supplies emanating from the Middle East, given the escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf.

While the prospect of an expanded military conflict beyond Yemen and the Red Sea remains limited at present, both Iran and the United States are motivated to confine hostilities to this region. Nevertheless, the risk of expansion has increased. If Houthi threats can be sufficiently mitigated to facilitate the resumption of normal shipping in the Red Sea, oil prices should correspondingly decrease to reflect the diminished risk.

The recent US-led military response was an inevitable course of action in the face of Houthi provocations, with repeated warnings against attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthi missile and other strikes on January 9 in the Red Sea undeniably rendered a military response inescapable (January 9, 2024).

The ball is now in the Houthi court, as the world awaits their decision on whether to persist in their confrontation with global powers. Iran’s role as a provider of technology and critical components for Houthi missiles and drones complicates the situation, with Tehran likely to continue urging its proxies to carry out attacks despite international strikes. Iran has historically demonstrated resilience in the face of attacks on its proxies. Yet, it remains uncertain what it will take to deter the Houthis from continuing their involvement in Iran’s proxy war against the United States and its allies. The world is poised to discover whether the Houthis are determined to press forward with their attacks, potentially inviting further strikes on strategic targets by the United States and its allies.

Houthi Anti-Ship Missile Threat and Iran’s Role in Yemen

In just a few years, Houthi rebels in Yemen have amassed an increasingly diverse and capable arsenal of anti-ship weaponry, incorporating both cruise and ballistic missiles. These sophisticated weapons have been used to threaten shipping in the Red Sea, raising concerns about regional security and the role of Iran in supporting the Houthi insurgency.

Early Acquisitions

Houthi forces initially acquired anti-ship missiles in 2014-2015 when they took control of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa. During this period, they obtained obsolescent Soviet-made P-21 and P-22 missiles (RS-SSC-3 Styx) and slightly more modern Chinese C-801 missiles (YJ-81/CH-SS-N-4 Sardine) from Yemeni military stocks. These missiles, designated as Rubezh B21/B22 and Al-Mandab 1, are still displayed by the Houthis, but their current operational status and quantity remain unclear.

Enhanced Capability

Since these early acquisitions, Houthi forces have significantly improved their anti-ship missile capabilities. This enhancement can be attributed to Iranian assistance, which began in earnest in 2015. One significant event was the Houthi strike on the Emirati troop-transport catamaran HSV-2 Swift and an attempted attack on the USS Mason (DDG-87), a U.S. Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer in 2016. While evidence of Iranian-made anti-ship missiles was lacking at the time, these incidents raised suspicions.

Iranian Support

In 2019, the U.S. Navy intercepted a vessel in the Arabian Sea smuggling Iranian-made arms into Yemen, including a version of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). Iran had been producing this missile domestically since the 1990s, developing versions with ranges of 120 km, 200 km (Ghader), and 300 km (Ghadir). The Houthis claimed that their C-802s, named Al-Mandab 2, had a range of 300 km, possibly indicating a transfer of the Ghadir missile.

Recent Developments

In parades held in 2022 and 2023, the Houthis unveiled additional ASCMs, including anti-ship versions of the Iranian Quds/351 land-attack cruise missile (LACM). These versions were equipped with radar-homing seekers (Sayyad) and electro-optical/infrared seekers (Quds Z-0), potentially providing a range of at least 800 km. The parades also showcased various anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) and guided rockets employing Iranian infrared or imaging infrared seeker technology. The most notable ASBMs, Asef and Tankil, both originated from Iran and had warheads exceeding 300 kilograms.

Complex ASBM Technology

ASBM technology is complex, and its development has challenged Iranian officials. While it remains uncertain how effectively Iranian ASBMs can be employed against mobile targets, they have demonstrated success against static targets in tests. In contrast to proven ASCM designs used by the Houthis, the ASBMs present more uncertainties.


Table 1 – List of Houthi Missile Models and Details:

Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles:

Asef (or Asif)

  • Derived from Iran’s Fateh 313 short-range ballistic missile
  • Reported maximum range of nearly 280 miles (450 kilometers)
  • Equipped with an electro-optical/infrared seeker

Tankil

  • Version of the Iranian Raad-500 short-range ballistic missile configured for anti-ship use
  • Smaller than Asef but assessed to have a longer range of around 310 miles (500 kilometers)
  • Equipped with an electro-optical/infrared seeker

Faleq

  • Range of just under 87 miles (140 kilometers)
  • Limited details available, may be derived from the Iranian Fajr-4 guided artillery rocket
  • Mayun
    • Limited information available

Al Bahr Al Ahmar

  • Arabic name for the Red Sea
  • Limited details available
  • Muhit (or Mohit or Moheet)
    • Not derived from Iranian design but likely aided by Iran in its creation
    • Anti-ship version of the Houthi Qaher-2 series of surface-to-surface missiles
    • Conversion of old Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles

Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles:

  • Soviet-made P-21/P-22 (SS-N-2 Styx)
    • Range of around 50 miles (80 kilometers)
    • Equipped with active radar seekers and infrared homing capability

Chinese C-801 (Al Mandab/Al Mandab 1)

  • Range of around 25 miles (40 kilometers)
  • Equipped with active radar seekers
  • Al Mandab 2
    • Likely a copy of the Iranian Ghadir, an enlarged derivative of the Chinese C-802
    • Purported range of 186 miles (300 kilometers)

Noor

  • Iranian variant of the Chinese C-802
  • Range not specified
  • Ghader
    • Iranian variant with a reported range of 124 miles (200 kilometers)

Sayyad

  • Iranian-designed anti-ship cruise missile with a radar-homing seeker

Quds Z-0

  • Iranian-designed anti-ship cruise missile with an electro-optical/infrared seeker
  • Range of at least 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles)

Please note that some details about the smaller Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles are limited, and specific information about their capabilities may not be readily available.


TABLE 2 : Complete catalog of the Houthis’ current inventory of drones, rockets and missiles
Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  •  ”Hudhud-1” [2017]
  •  Skywalker X8 ”Rased or Rased-1” [2017] (Likely supplied by Iran)
  •  GL Lidar PPK ”Raqib” [2022] (Likely supplied by Iran)
  •  RQ-11 Raven ”Raqeep” (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  •  ”Samad-1” [2019]
  •  ”Mersad-1” [2021]
  •  ”Mersad-2” [2022]
  •  ”Nabaa” [2021]
  •  Unknown UAV [2022]

Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicles (UCAVs)

  • ”Samad-4” [2021] (Armed with two unguided munitions)
  • Skywalker X8 ”Rased or Rased-1” (Likely supplied by Iran) (Armed with one 60mm mortar round)
  • YD6-1000S ”Rujum” [2021] (Likely supplied by Iran) (Armed with up to six 60mm mortar rounds or grenades)

Loitering Munitions

  •  Ababil-2T ”Qasef-1” [2017]
  •  Ababil-2T ”Qasef-2K” [2019]
  •  ”Samad-2” [2019]
  •  ”Samad-3” [2019] Two configurations: (2)
  •  ”Shihab” [2021]
  •  Shahed-136 ”Wa’aed” [2021]
  •  ”Khatif-1” [2021]
  •  ”Khatif-2” [2022]

Ballistic Missiles

  • OTR-21 Tochka (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Stocks Depleted)
  • R-17 Elbrus Scud-B (Most converted to Borkans. Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Stocks Depleted)
  • Hwasŏng-5/6 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks. Most converted to Borkans) (Stocks Depleted)
  • Borkan-1 [2016] (Modified Scud/Hwasŏng missile inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Stocks Depleted)
  • Borkan-2 [2017] (Modified Scud/Hwasŏng missile inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Stocks Depleted)
  • Qiam-1 ”Borkan-H2” [2017]
  • Qiam-1 ”Borkan-3 or Zolfaghar” [2019]
  • Qiam-2 ”Falaq” [2022]
  • ”Qasim-2” [2021]
  • Fateh-110 ”Karrar” [2022]
  • Kheibar Shekan ”Hatem” [2022]
  • Qaher-1 (Repurposed Soviet V-750 missile of S-75 SAM inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Stocks Depleted)
  • Qaher-M2 (Modified Soviet V-750 missile of S-75 SAM inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Stocks Depleted)
  • Badr-F [2019]
  • Nakal [2021] (Improved version of the Badr-F)
  • Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs)
  • Soumar ”Quds-351” [2019]
  • Soumar ”Quds-2” [2021]
  • Soumar ”Quds-3” [2022]
  • Anti-Ship (Guided) Missiles And Rockets
  • Moheet [2022] (Repurposed Soviet V-750 missile of S-75 SAM inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • Khalij Fars ”Aasif” [2022]
  • Al-Bahr Al-Ahmar [2022]
  • Fajr-4CL ”Faleq-1” [2022]

Coastal Defence Anti-Ship Missile Systems

  • P-15 Termit ”Ro’beige” (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Navy stocks)
  • P-15M Termit ”Rubezh” (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Navy stocks)
  • C-801 ”Al-Mandab-1” (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Navy stocks)
  • Qaher ”Al-Mandab-2” [2019]

Surface-To-Air Missile (SAM) Systems

  • S-75 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) (Usage documented once. Most converted to Qahers) (Stocks Depleted)
  • 9K31 Strela-1 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) 
  • 2K12 Kub ”Fater-1” (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • R-60M (AAM modified for SAM role. Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Air Force stocks)
  • R-73E ”Thaqib-1” (AAM modified for SAM role. Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Air Force stocks)
  • R-27T ”Thaqib-2” (AAM modified for SAM role. Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Air Force stocks)
  • R-77 ”Thaqib-3” (AAM modified for SAM role. Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Air Force stocks) (Not known to have been operationally deployed)
  • Sayyad-2C [2018] (Not known to have been operationally deployed)
  • ”Saqr-1” ”358” [2019]
  • Mi’raj [2022]

Radars And Electro-Optical Sighting Systems

  • P-19 ”Flat Face B” (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 1S91 SURN (For 2K12 Kub) (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) 
  • Sadiq [2022] 
  • Haydar [2022]

Artillery Rockets

  • Zelzal-1 (Collective designation for IRAMs) Four configurations: (2) (3) (4)
  • Zelzal-2 (Soviet S-24 air-launched rocket inherited from pre-war Yemeni Air Force stocks)
  • Zelzal-3 (Cannibalized 9M21 rocket of 9K52 Luna-M system inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks) ((Stocks Depleted)
  • Samood (Cannibalized 9M21 rocket of 9K52 Luna-M system inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)(Stocks Depleted)

Guided Rockets

  •  ”Badr-1P” [2018]
  •  ”Badr-2P” [2022]
  •  ”Badr-3” [2022]
  •  ”Saeer” [2021]
  •  ”Qasim-1” [2021]

Multiple Rocket Launchers (MRLs)

  • 107mm Type 63 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 122mm Sakr 6 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 122mm Sakr 40 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 122mm BM-21 Grad (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 122mm Grad Single Tube Launcher (Converted from BM-21s inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 122mm Grad Dual Tube Launcher (Converted from BM-21s inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 132mm M13 ‘Katyusha’ (Stocks Depleted) (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 220mm BM-27 ‘Uragan’ (Stocks Depleted) (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 220mm BM-27 On Star 1466 Truck (Stocks Depleted)
  • 220mm BM-27 Uragan Single Tube Launcher (Stocks Depleted)
  • Al-Najim al-Thaqib 1 (Stocks Depleted)
  • Al-Najim al-Thaqib 2 (Stocks Depleted)
  • Al-Sarkha-3 (Stocks Depleted)
  •  ”Badr-1” [2018] Three launcher configurations: (1, Truck-Based Launcher) (2, Truck-Based Launcher) (3, Underground Launcher)

Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS)

  • 9K32 Strela-2 (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 9K34 Strela-3 (Origin unknown)
  • 9K338 Igla-S (Origin unknown)
  •  Misagh-1 [2022]
  •  Misagh-2 [2022]

Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs)

  • 9M14 Malyutka (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 9M111 Fagot (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 9M1113 Konkurs (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 9M115 Metis (Inherited from pre-war Yemeni Army stocks)
  • 9M133 Kornet [2016]
  • Towsan-1 [2016]
  • Dehlavieh [2016]
  • Saeghe [2017]
  • Toophan [2018]

US-led strikes reflect the Houthis’ grave miscalculation

The US-led strikes in Yemen on January 11, 2024, represent a significant turning point in the ongoing conflict in the region. These strikes were a direct response to the Houthis’ repeated attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea over the past few weeks. However, these events also highlight a grave miscalculation on the part of the Houthi rebels, who underestimated the United States’ willingness to take substantial military action in defense of freedom of navigation.

The path that led to these decisive US-led strikes can be traced back to the Biden-Harris National Security Strategy, which emphasizes the importance of defending freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. This objective has been a consistent theme in the national security strategies of US administrations dating back to 1987. The US government has been clear in asserting the international legal justification for its military actions, citing Article 51 of the United Nations Charter as the basis for acts of self-defense.

While the legal justification for US actions is well-defined, the threshold for military action was less clear, and this is where the Houthis made a significant miscalculation. They believed that the US would only resort to offensive action if an American life was lost and that President Biden, facing an upcoming election, would be reluctant to engage in offensive military operations. Both assumptions proved incorrect in the current context.

The critical shift in the US stance came with the formation of an international coalition that supported military intervention to neutralize the Houthi threat to global shipping lanes. A joint statement issued on January 3 by countries including Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, and the United Kingdom warned the Houthis against further attacks on international shipping but did not specify the consequences of ignoring the warning.

This ambiguity allowed the Houthis to believe that launching another attack using long-range munitions would not jeopardize their safety or assets. However, the US Central Command’s statement on January 9, following another wave of Houthi missile and drone attacks, clarified the situation. It was no longer a mere warning but rather a statement of justification for what was about to transpire.

On January 11, the US military, supported by its international partners, carried out limited strikes targeting Houthi ballistic missile, cruise missile, drone storage facilities, production sites, and launch platforms. Despite some criticism from members of Congress, President Biden was firmly within his legal authority to order these strikes. The Houthi spokesperson’s admission on January 9 that their recent assault targeted a US vessel supporting Israel removed any ambiguity about the grounds for a US response.

Under Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution, President Biden, as Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces, had the authority to take action against immediate threats posed by the Houthi arsenal without requiring Congressional deliberation and a declaration of war. Both international and domestic US law supported the notion that the ongoing imminent threat from the Houthis justified the President’s decision to act when he deemed it necessary.

From Iran to Saudi Arabia, the Strikes Will Cause Regional Reverberations

The decision by the United States and its allies to launch strikes against Houthi assets on January 11 was a necessary and justified response to the relentless wave of Houthi attacks over the past seven weeks, which had severely disrupted global maritime traffic and threatened regional allies. However, while these US and UK strikes represent a crucial step in restoring deterrence, they are unlikely to fully quell Houthi aggression in the Red Sea.

For the United States and the coalition, the primary objective is to reinstate a sense of deterrence. Achieving this goal will likely entail an ongoing commitment to responding to Houthi strikes, potentially with escalating force to influence Houthi leadership’s calculations (January 11, 2024).

Although the task is formidable, it is crucial to understand that the Houthis perceive themselves as having little to lose, emboldened by Iranian support and convinced that the United States would not engage in a ground war. While this perception may hold true, the United States can still diminish the Houthis’ capabilities and effectiveness. Additionally, this strategy sends a powerful message to other Iranian proxies in the region, demonstrating Washington’s readiness to employ force to safeguard its interests and those of its allies and partners.

The Houthis, in the grand scheme of Iranian proxies, are considered less significant and manageable by Tehran, making them a test case for gauging US and allied responses to potential escalations by other Iranian proxies.

Saudi Arabia, currently engaged in negotiations with the Houthis to reach a permanent resolution to their conflict, is likely to harbor mixed sentiments regarding the strikes. On one hand, Riyadh will undoubtedly be concerned that these actions could provoke the Houthis into ending negotiations and launching direct attacks on Saudi territory. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is likely to acknowledge that negotiations with the Houthis become more complex as the group gains leverage and expands its regional operations unchecked. Furthermore, Riyadh’s cautious détente with Iran may not be sustainable if the regional power balance tilts significantly in favor of Tehran, allowing its proxies to operate with minimal consequences from the United States and its allies. Prioritizing avoidance of confrontation with Iran may provide short-term tranquility for Saudi Arabia, but it does not guarantee long-term security.

While Washington’s decision to respond to Houthi aggression is an unfortunate necessity, it is important to acknowledge the potential for regional escalation that accompanies such actions. However, allowing Iran and its proxies to exert terrorist and malign influence throughout the region unchecked would pose an even greater risk of prolonged and more devastating regional conflicts in the months and years ahead. Today’s strike may mark the coalition’s initial response to the Houthis, but it is unlikely to be the final one. Establishing enduring deterrence requires a sustained and unwavering effort on the part of the United States and its allies.

Iran’s Proxies: Symptoms of a Deeper Malaise in the Middle East

The Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, is a Yemen-based militant group that is commonly associated with Iran and is considered a part of the Iran-led Axis of Resistance. While their links to Iran go back several years, the depth of their relationship has increased over the last decade. However, it’s important to note that comparing the Houthis to other members of the Axis, such as Hezbollah or pro-Iran militant groups in Iraq, can be misleading, as it overstates Iran’s control over the Yemeni movement.

The Houthis have been strategically valuable to Iran in pursuing its anti-American and anti-Israel agenda in the region, particularly in the Red Sea. Tehran’s approach in its relationship with the Houthis is guided by three key principles:

  • Regional Power Projection: Iran seeks to project its power and gain geopolitical leverage in the region at a relatively low direct financial cost.
  • Deniability: Iran maintains a level of deniability regarding the actions of its regional proxy allies, allowing it to distance itself from their activities when necessary.
  • War of Attrition: The model involves a strategy of attrition, aimed at safeguarding Iran’s homeland from retaliation while wearing down its adversaries.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, has emphasized the importance of avoiding direct confrontation with Israel and the United States for Iran and its proxy allies. This has been the approach of Hezbollah towards Israel as well, involving low-intensity attacks on the border without a commitment to engage in full-scale conflict.

Unlike Hezbollah, which Iran established and nurtured over several decades, the Houthi-Iran relationship is relatively new and less cemented. Therefore, coordination between Iran and the Houthis, especially in actions like attacking shipping in the Red Sea, is crucial. Tehran has more at stake if Houthi actions lead to Western retaliation against Iran for its support of the Houthi movement.

The evolution of Iran’s relationship with the Houthis began during the Yemeni civil war in 2014-15, when Iran started supporting the Houthi rebels while Saudi Arabia backed the anti-Houthi Yemeni state forces. Iran saw an opportunity to exert pressure on Riyadh by supporting the Houthis, even though historical ties between Iran and Yemen were not significant before that point. The influence of Iran on Houthi religious and political ideology has grown over time.

Despite international accusations of Iran’s involvement in training and arming the Houthis, Tehran’s support continued unabated, leading to a ceasefire between the Houthis and Saudis in April 2022. This development was seen as a success for Iran’s investment in the Houthis.

In recent times, the Houthis have demonstrated their utility to Iran by launching drones and missiles at Israel and Red Sea shipping, impacting Israel’s decision-making and the Western world’s perception of the situation. Although the extent of Iran’s operational influence over Houthi actions is unclear, there is evidence suggesting material support and training from Iran and Hezbollah.

However, this high-risk game raises concerns in Washington, with calls for Iran to be held accountable for Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping. Iran has denied involvement in these attacks, and as tensions rise in the Red Sea, it remains to be seen if Iran is willing to risk open conflict with the United States and if it can exert enough influence over the Houthis to de-escalate the situation for now.

The Diminished Role of the United States

The United States’ role in the Horn of Africa has become more passive in recent years, particularly under the Biden administration. This shift has allowed other regional powers to assert their influence more aggressively, impacting the peace and security dynamics in the region.

One significant aspect of this reduced engagement is the United States’ approach towards conflicts and diplomatic tensions in the Horn of Africa. For instance, in the case of the recent tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia over a pact with Somaliland, the U.S., alongside the African Union and the European Union, has called for de-escalation and dialogue rather than taking a more active role in mediation or intervention​​​​.

This passive stance is reflected in various aspects of the region’s challenges. The Horn of Africa faces severe problems, including conflict, political instability, and humanitarian crises exacerbated by climate change and economic factors. In 2024, the region is dealing with acute hunger due to one of the worst droughts in recent decades, compounded by the impacts of COVID-19 and global economic issues​​. The U.S.’s less assertive role in addressing these challenges contrasts with the more proactive approaches seen in previous years.

The broader context of Africa’s challenges in 2024 also includes debt burdens, with several countries facing debt distress due to elevated interest rates and a stronger dollar, making it more expensive for them to service dollar-denominated debt​​. These economic challenges, combined with the ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises, paint a complex picture of the region’s current state.

The diminished U.S. role in the Horn of Africa could have various implications. It might lead to a power vacuum filled by regional powers or contribute to prolonged conflicts and instability. It also raises questions about the future of international cooperation and intervention in regional conflicts and humanitarian crises.

Regional and Global Powers Filling the Vacuum

With the U.S. adopting a more hands-off approach, regional powers, particularly from the Middle East, have stepped in to fill the void. Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey have increased their influence in the Horn of Africa, often pursuing their geopolitical and economic interests. This involvement has been evident in various forms, including military bases, economic investments, and diplomatic initiatives.

Implications for Conflict and Stability

The change in the U.S.’s role could have significant implications for conflict resolution and stability in the region. Historically, U.S. involvement, whether perceived positively or negatively, has been a key factor in diplomatic efforts and conflict resolution processes. The current U.S. stance might lead to a lack of effective mediation in regional conflicts, potentially resulting in prolonged instability or the escalation of existing tensions.

Humanitarian Concerns

The Horn of Africa is facing severe humanitarian challenges, including famine, drought, and displacement. The U.S.’s reduced role in the region might affect the scale and effectiveness of humanitarian aid and response to these crises. While international organizations and NGOs continue to operate, the absence of a strong U.S. presence in humanitarian efforts could impact the overall response to these critical issues.

Geostrategic Importance

The Horn of Africa holds significant geostrategic importance due to its location near vital maritime routes, like the Bab El-Mandeb strait, which is crucial for global trade. The U.S.’s diminished engagement in the region could have implications for maritime security and the global economy, especially in terms of safeguarding these vital shipping lanes.

Long-term U.S. Interests

Finally, it’s important to consider the long-term implications of the U.S.’s diminished role for its own strategic interests. While current priorities may lie elsewhere, the Horn of Africa’s importance in terms of security, trade, and geopolitical positioning cannot be underestimated. A reduced U.S. presence might lead to a reconfiguration of alliances and power structures in the region, potentially affecting U.S. interests in the future.

In conclusion, the United States’ diminished role in the Horn of Africa is a significant development with far-reaching implications. It alters the balance of power in the region, impacts conflict resolution and stability, and raises concerns about humanitarian crises and geostrategic interests. How this will shape the future of the Horn of Africa and the U.S.’s own strategic positioning remains a critical area of consideration for policymakers and analysts alike.

A Fractured Landscape

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas and the involvement of major powers like the United States have not only exacerbated tensions in the Middle East but have also destabilized the already fragile peace and security architecture in the Horn of Africa. The region now faces a critical juncture, with the possibility of escalating conflicts and the erosion of multilateralism in favor of transactional politics. The international community must carefully navigate these challenges to avoid further deterioration of stability and security in these interconnected regions.

Expanding Influence of China and Russia in the Middle East: Economic and Defense Strategies in a Changing Geopolitical Landscape

Over the past few months, China and Russia have significantly intensified their economic and defense engagements in the Middle East. This period has seen a strategic push by these two nations to cement their positions in the region, amidst a backdrop of shifting allegiances and growing skepticism towards the United States, particularly due to its foreign policies.

China and Russia’s Economic and Military Expansion in the Middle East

Over the past two months, China and Russia have significantly advanced their economic and military interests in the Middle East, amidst shifting regional dynamics and changing global power equations.

China’s Economic Expansion

  • Major Deals in Egypt: In early November, China struck a $15.6 billion deal with Egypt’s Suez Canal Economic Zone for eleven projects, including green fuel and manufacturing​​. This follows a $6.75 billion agreement for green hydrogen and ammonia projects, marking a substantial investment in Egypt’s infrastructure.
  • Belt and Road Forum Initiatives: The third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing saw China disbursing a $957 million loan to Egypt’s central bank, intended for financing projects agreed upon at the forum​​. This underscores the Belt and Road Initiative’s role in China’s expanding influence in the region.
  • Strengthening Ties with Gulf Countries: Notably, China cemented its economic relations with Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Chinese firms signed green-energy cooperation agreements with Saudi’s ACWA Power and secured a significant currency swap deal, alongside over 60 Memorandums of Understanding in various sectors​​.
  • Energy Investments: China has continued its focus on the Middle East’s energy resources. Notable is the deal with QatarEnergy, where China’s Sinopec secured a long-term natural gas supply, and its poised advantage in Iraq’s West Qurna 1 oil field​​.

Russia’s Economic and Defense Forays

  • Oil Industry Engagement: Russia has strengthened its presence in Iraq’s oil sector, with Lukoil extending its contract for the West Qurna 2 oilfield and solidifying its position in the Block 10 oil fields​​.
  • Free-Trade Zone with Iran: The establishment of a free-trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran marks a significant step in Russia’s economic strategy in the Middle East​​.
  • Defense Relationships: Russia has been reinforcing its defense ties in the Middle East. Notable developments include joint naval drills with Algeria, arms deals with Iran, and discussions on defense cooperation with Libya​​.

Strategic Implications

  • China’s Economic Strategy: China’s approach in the Middle East, characterized by significant investment and strategic economic alliances, aligns with its global ambitions under the Belt and Road Initiative. Its economic dealings in the region, especially in the energy sector, are enhancing its influence in the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape​​.
  • Countering Western Influence: Both China and Russia are promoting narratives and diplomatic strategies that counter Western ideologies. This includes China’s push for new regional security frameworks and Russia’s military support in various African and Middle Eastern countries​​.
  • Economic Partnership View: A notable proportion of respondents in key Middle Eastern countries view Russia primarily as an economic partner, as indicated by the survey. This perception is significant in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, and Egypt​​.
  • Military Relationships: Russia’s reinforcement of defense relationships, through activities such as joint naval drills with Algeria and arms deals with Iran, underscores its strategic military objectives in the Middle East​​.
  • Regional Influence: The Middle East’s geopolitical landscape is increasingly shaped by China’s and Russia’s strategic maneuvers. This includes exploiting regional rivalries, such as the Saudi Arabia-Iran tension, and leveraging their roles in global energy markets​​.
  • Russia’s Economic Role: While Russia’s economic presence is less pervasive than China’s, it’s significant, particularly in the energy sector. The extension of Lukoil’s contract in Iraq and the establishment of a free-trade zone with Iran are examples of Russia’s deepening economic ties in the region​​.
  • Shift in Regional Perceptions: The Washington Institute’s survey results, conducted between November 14 and December 6, show a notable shift in how Middle Eastern countries perceive global powers. A majority in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, and Lebanon indicated a preference for looking towards nations like Russia and China for partnership, moving away from reliance on the United States. This sentiment has grown in each country, with Bahrain, for instance, showing an 11-point increase since July 2022​​.
  • Xi-Putin Meeting: The latest Xi-Putin meeting on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum signifies a deepening strategic alignment between Beijing and Moscow, especially in light of global geopolitical tensions​​.

The recent public opinion polling from the Washington Institute, conducted between November 14 and December 6, reflects significant shifts in how Middle Eastern nations perceive global powers, particularly China, Russia, and the United States. This data offers crucial insights into the changing geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.

Key Findings from the Washington Institute Poll

  • Shift in Regional Confidence: The survey indicates a marked decrease in confidence in the United States as a reliable partner across several Middle Eastern countries. This is evidenced by a majority of respondents in nations such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, and Lebanon agreeing with the statement: “We can no longer count on the United States, and therefore must look more to other nations like Russia and China as partners.”
  • Notable Increase in Sentiment: Each of these countries shows a notable increase in this sentiment. For example, Bahrain exhibited an 11-point jump from 57% in July 2022 to 68% in the recent survey. This suggests a growing regional trend towards seeking alliances beyond traditional ties with the United States.
  • Perception of Russia as an Economic Partner: A significant portion of respondents in key nations view Russia primarily as an economic partner. This perspective is most pronounced in countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, and Egypt.
  • Comparative Views on Economic Partnership: In the same survey, the view of the United States as an economic partner, as opposed to a security partner, friend, competitor, or enemy, is less prevalent. Only about one-third of respondents in these countries considered the United States primarily as an economic partner. This contrasts with the higher percentages viewing China and Russia in this light.
  • Evolving Regional Dynamics: These results illustrate a significant shift in the Middle East’s geopolitical alignments. While the United States has historically been a dominant force in the region, the increasing inclination towards China and Russia indicates a changing perception of global power roles and alliances.

Implications of the Survey Results

  • Changing Alliances: The growing preference for China and Russia over the United States reflects evolving political and economic realities in the Middle East. This shift could lead to realignments in international relations and regional strategies.
  • China and Russia’s Growing Influence: The survey underscores the effective expansion of China and Russia’s influence in the Middle East, both economically and diplomatically. Their strategic engagements in the region appear to be resonating with the public sentiment.
  • Impact on U.S. Foreign Policy: The decreasing confidence in the United States as a partner in the Middle East presents challenges for U.S. foreign policy. It may necessitate a reassessment of its strategies and engagement in the region.
  • Broader Geopolitical Repercussions: This shift in regional sentiment could have broader implications for global geopolitics, potentially impacting issues ranging from energy security to international conflict and cooperation.

In conclusion, the Washington Institute’s polling survey reveals a notable shift in the Middle Eastern public’s perception of global powers, with an increasing inclination towards China and Russia as economic partners and a corresponding decrease in reliance on the United States. This trend highlights the dynamic nature of international relations and the evolving geopolitical landscape in the Middle East.


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