US and UK launch airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen
The US and Britain have launched a major retaliation against Houthi rebels in Yemen, in response to 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 US-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 US personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardized trade, and threatened freedom of navigation.”
Mr. Biden stressed that the US and its allies first tried an “extensive diplomatic campaign” to stop the Houthi attacks, though it’s clear that the campaign wasn’t successful, and that military action was the only option left.
“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.”
The strikes represent another escalation of the Middle East conflict that began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel.
For the US, the bombing of Houthi targets in Yemen marks yet another Middle Eastern nation on the receiving end of American military intervention — despite two consecutive presidents seeking to lessen America’s military footprint in the region.
Even after issuing a “final warning” to the Iran-backed group last week, the Biden administration clearly wanted to avoid striking targets in Yemen if at all possible. Within national security circles, there has been fear that hitting the Houthis in Yemen would itself be the very kind of escalation the US desperately wanted to avoid.
Ahead of Thursday’s strikes, the rebel group’s leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, warned of more escalation if the US 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.
Direct US military intervention also 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 well-accustomed to such attacks and simply may not fear them as other groups might, meaning the US can’t necessarily bank on the strikes dissuading the Houthis from continuing to target commercial shipping in the region.
Despite all that, continued aggression by the Houthis in the Red Sea — a key passageway for maritime traffic from around the world — left the US 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 just 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 attacks increasingly are targeting ships that have no apparent connection to the Jewish state.
The attack Tuesday was also one of the most complex and aggressive so far, though no ships were damaged. In the assault, the US Central Command said that “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.”
The drones and missiles were shot down by US and British military forces in the region. In past attacks, Houthi drones have struck commercial vessels. In another instance, the US Navy engaged in a firefight with Houthi rebels aboard small boats in the Red Sea.
And last Thursday, a drone boat packed with explosives detonated within miles of US warships and commercial vessels off the coast of Yemen — just hours after the US and its allies issued their “final warning” and warned that retaliation was on the horizon.
It’s 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 even 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.