U.S., Britain strike Iranian-backed Houthi sites in Yemen

Must read

The U.S. and Britain struck back at Houthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday night, marking the first major retaliation against the Iran-backed militants after weeks of warnings about their repeated assaults on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Using warship-launched Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets, the American and British militaries reportedly struck at least a dozen sites used by the Houthis, including logistical hubs, air defense systems and weapons storage locations.

President Biden said he ordered the strikes to protect “one of the world’s most vital waterways,” which had become exceedingly dangerous amid repeated drone and missile attacks by the Houthis. The president said Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands supported the U.S.-British operation.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” the president said. “These attacks have endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardized trade, and threatened freedom of navigation.”

Mr. Biden stressed that the U.S. and its allies first tried an “extensive diplomatic campaign” to stop the Houthi attacks, though it was clear the campaign wasn’t successful and military action was the only option.

“These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” Mr. Biden said. “I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Houthis had engaged in “a series of dangerous and destabilizing attacks” that threatened global commerce.

“Despite the repeated warnings from the international community, the Houthis have continued to carry out attacks in the Red Sea, including against U.K. and U.S. warships just this week. This cannot stand,” he said in a statement.

Republicans in Washington said Mr. Biden waited far too long to hit back.

“This strike was two months overdue, but it is a good first step toward restoring deterrence in the Red Sea,” said Sen. Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi Republican and ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Strikes broaden regional war

The strikes represent another escalation of the Middle East conflict that began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.

Yemen marks another Middle Eastern nation on the receiving end of American military intervention despite two consecutive presidents seeking to reduce America’s military footprint in the region.

Even after issuing a “final warning” to the Iran-backed group last week, the Biden administration wanted to avoid striking targets in Yemen if at all possible. National security circles have shown fear that hitting the Houthis in Yemen would be the kind of escalation the U.S. desperately wanted to avoid.

Ahead of the strikes, the rebel group’s leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, warned of more escalation if the U.S. and its allies strike Yemen.

“Any American attack will not remain without a response. The response will be greater than the attack that was carried out with 20 drones and a number of missiles,” he said, referring to a Houthi assault Tuesday.

“We are more determined to target ships linked to Israel, and we will not back down from that,” the Houthi leader said, according to Al Jazeera.

It remains to be seen whether the coalition airstrikes have degraded Houthi capabilities to the point that the group can no longer threaten ships in the Red Sea. A senior Pentagon official said that while it was too early to determine precisely how much, the U.S.-led attacks did do significant damage.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes targeted such Houthi capabilities as unmanned aerial vehicles, uncrewed surface vessels, land-attack cruise missiles, and coastal radar and air surveillance.

Reuters news agency reported that the strikes hit targets across Yemen, including in the capital, Sanaa, and in the cities of Saada and Dhamar, and the Hodeida governorate.

Fallout from direct U.S. military intervention could derail intensive United Nations-backed peace talks aimed at ending Yemen’s long-running civil war.

Furthermore, the Houthis were subject to years of bombing by a Saudi-led military coalition during that civil war.

The Houthis, analysts say, are accustomed to such attacks and may not fear them as other groups might, meaning the U.S. can’t necessarily bank on the strikes dissuading the Houthis from continuing to target commercial shipping in the region.

Houthis had rebuffed diplomacy

Despite all that, continued aggression by the Houthis in the Red Sea, a key passageway for maritime traffic from around the world, left the U.S. with little choice but to act.

A missile and drone barrage by the Houthis on Tuesday marked the 26th attack on Red Sea shipping lanes over the past two months.

The Houthis claim their assaults are designed to degrade Israel’s military capabilities and slow its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but the White House pushed back Thursday night against Houthi claims.

“That is simply not true. They are firing indiscriminately on vessels with global ties. Most of the ships that have come under attack have nothing whatsoever to do with Isreal,” a senior White House official said.

“And even if that was the case, it’s no justification for these illegal attacks in international waterways,” the official added.

The attack Tuesday was also one of the most complex and aggressive so far, though no ships were damaged. In the assault, U.S. Central Command said, “Iranian-backed Houthis launched a complex attack of Iranian designed one-way attack UAVs, anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the Southern Red Sea, towards international shipping lanes where dozens of merchant vessels were transiting.”

U.S. and British military forces in the region shot down the drones and missiles. In past attacks, Houthi drones have struck commercial vessels. In another instance, the U.S. Navy engaged in a firefight with Houthi rebels aboard small boats in the Red Sea.

Last week, a drone boat packed with explosives detonated within miles of U.S. warships and commercial vessels off the coast of Yemen just hours after the U.S. and its allies issued their “final warning” and declared that retaliation was on the horizon.

It was not clear whether the strikes Thursday will end the Houthi attacks. Specialists have warned that the group is far more unpredictable than Hamas, Lebanon-based Hezbollah or the Iran-backed Shiite militias that routinely target American troops in Syria and Iraq.

“What’s different about the Houthis is, they don’t have to be careful,” Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Washington Times recently.

“The Houthis are just sitting there in Yemen, much further away than Lebanese Hezbollah is from Israel,” Mr. Knights said. “They’ve been bombed for the last eight, nine years. They have a very high pain threshold. All their leadership is extremely well hidden so the Saudis couldn’t assassinate them during the war. They’re locked down. And they’re actually much more ideologically pure and determined than Lebanese Hezbollah or the militias” backed by Iran.

More articles

Latest article