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The US and UK have launched military strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, raising fears of a wider escalation of the conflict in the region.
US President Joe Biden said he ordered the attack in response to “unprecedented” attacks by Yemen-based rebels on commercial ships in the Red Sea. Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands also supported the operation.
“These targeted attacks are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to dangerous for freedom of navigation in one of the most important trade routes in the world,” Mr. Biden said.
“I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international trade as needed.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Houthi attacks were disrupting trade, driving up commodity prices and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
“Despite repeated warnings from the international community, Houthi forces continue to carry out attacks in the Red Sea, including attacks on British and American warships just this week. This cannot stand,” Sunak said in a statement announcing the Royal Air Force strikes.
He added that the British navy would continue to patrol the Red Sea as part of a multinational operation.
A US administration official said the attacks targeted Houthi missile, radar and drone capabilities. “As of now, we have not seen any direct retaliation against the US or other coalition members in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab or the Gulf of Aden. Of course, we are still prepared to defend ourselves,” said a senior US military official.
The Houthis, who control northern Yemen, have become one of the most active factions in Tehran’s so-called Axis of Resistance since the war between Israel and Hamas, also supported by Iran, broke out. on October 7.
Although Biden has tried to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from metastasizing into a regional conflict, continued attacks by the Houthi militia have forced the White House to recalculate.
“The Houthis claim their attacks on military and civilian vessels are somehow linked to the ongoing conflict in Gaza,” a senior Biden administration official said. That is completely baseless and illegal.”
“We hold Iran accountable for the role it has played with the Houthis and with other groups in the region that have conducted attacks against American forces and made them aware of about that”.
The US and British attack comes after Iranian forces on Thursday seized an oil tanker off the coast of Oman and Houthi forces fired an anti-ship missile from Yemen into international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.
US Central Command said this was the 27th attack by the Houthis on international shipping in the past two months.
Nearly 15% of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea, including 8% of grain trade, 12% of seaborne oil and 8% of seaborne liquefied natural gas. Many tankers and container ships are avoiding the Red Sea route and the Suez Canal, opting instead for a longer – and more expensive – trip around Africa.
Crude oil prices rose after the strike, with international benchmark Brent rising nearly 2% to $78.86 a barrel when trading reopened on Friday in Asia, extending gains from the previous session.
Washington has sent hundreds of additional troops to the Middle East since the start of Israel’s conflict with Hamas in October and has attacked Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for attacks on US bases.
Saudi Arabia, which led the Arab coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 against the Houthis, has called for “restraint” and avoidance of escalation. A fragile truce has been in place since 2022 and the kingdom has held peace talks with the rebels in an attempt to exit the fighting.
During the war in Yemen, Houthi forces have fired hundreds of missiles and drones into Saudi Arabia, targeting airports, oil facilities and other infrastructure. The rebels also launched missile and drone attacks against the United Arab Emirates, the main partner in the Saudi-led coalition, two years ago.
“While the Kingdom emphasizes the importance of maintaining the security and stability of the Red Sea region, as freedom of navigation here is an international need due to its impact on the interests of the entire world, but the Kingdom calls for restraint and avoiding escalation in this matter. light of the events the region is witnessing,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister said in a statement.
Yemeni analysts have warned that attacks on the Houthis are unlikely to deter the rebels, a traditionally pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel and anti-American Islamist movement that has endured years of war. against the Saudi-led coalition.
Additional reporting by Andrew England in Dubai and David Sheppard in London