Israel's Eilat Port sees 85% drop in activity amid Red Sea Houthi attacks

Israel's Eilat Port sees 85% drop in activity amid Red Sea Houthi attacks
As ships are rerouted from the Red Sea, Eilat port's chief says business at the docks has decreased by 85% since Houthi attacks began
3 min read
22 December, 2023
Eilat is a southern Israeli port and resort town on the Red Sea, near Jordan [Getty]

Israel's Eilat Port has seen an 85 percent drop in activity since the Houthi rebels in Yemen stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, the port's chief executive said on Thursday.

The Houthis are playing an escalating role in the conflict in the Middle East, also firing drones and missiles at Israel in a campaign they say aims to support Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Eilat, which primarily handles car imports and potash exports coming from the Dead Sea, pales in size compared to Israel's Mediterranean ports in Haifa and Ashdod which handle most of the country's trade.

But Eilat, which sits adjacent to Jordan's only coastal access point at Aqaba, offers Israel a gateway to the East without the need to navigate the Suez Canal.

It was one of the first ports to be affected as shipping firms rerouted vessels to avoid the Red Sea after the Houthis disrupted a key trade route through the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Without this passage "you close the main shipping artery to Eilat Port. And therefore we lost 85% of total activity", CEO Gideon Golber told news agency Reuters.

The United States has since announced a multi-national security initiative to protect the crucial shipping lane.

"We still have a small number of ships for exporting potash, but I believe that with a destination in the Far East they will no longer travel in that direction. So that will also go down," Golber said.

"Unfortunately, if it continues we will reach a situation of zero ships in Eilat Port."

The alternative route takes shipping around the southern tip of Africa, extending voyages to the Mediterranean by two to three weeks which will add extra costs down the line, Israeli officials say.

Golber said the port would discuss with all relevant parties how to maintain operational continuity at Eilat, although it would require income. Still, he was confident they would find a way to do so.

"If God forbid, the coalition countries and Israel lag in finding a solution for the Houthis, unfortunately we will likely have to furlough workers," he said, adding that a small number would be required to service any ships that do arrive.

The Houthis say they have targeted ships connected to Israel in solidarity with Palestine and also fired rockets in the direction of Israel.

It has been engaged in a war with the internationally-recognised Yemeni government since the rebels captured Sanaa in 2014, leading to a Saudi-led intervention in 2015.

There has been a ceasefire in Yemen recently, with Saudi Arabia reportedly keen to end its campaign in the country.