The Red Sea is an immensely valuable region strategically. It’s been an active trade zone since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and today some 20 percent of global trade by volume passes through it. In 2016, nearly 17,000 vessels crossed from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea or vice versa through the Suez Canal (there is no consolidated organization that measures all Red Sea traffic), transporting approximately 820 million tons of cargo. Most of the maritime trade between Asia and Europe – about $700 billion annually – traverses it. Access to the Red Sea, and therefore to the Suez Canal, substantially shortens shipping times, making it easier and cheaper for China and the rest of Asia to sell to Europe.
The Red Sea is also a volatile region – in great part because of its value. Passage requires ships to navigate several narrow straits, which empowers countries that rarely draw international attention to affect the security of far more powerful countries