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June 25, 2024

Escalating Tensions as U.S. Steps Up Strikes Against Houthis

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Jan 21, 2024

The conflict between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and the U.S. and its allies has intensified dramatically in recent days, with a series of strikes by both sides. Several ships have been attacked in the Red Sea, prompting military action by the U.S. and increasing fears over threats to international shipping.

Series of Attacks on Commercial Vessels

Over the past two weeks, Houthi rebels have launched a spree of attacks targeting commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea near the coast of Yemen. According to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), there have been at least four attacks on merchant and cargo ships since January 12th:

  • Jan 12: The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Chem Ranger, owned by Israeli shipping company Ray Shipping, was attacked and suffered minor damage. No injuries were reported. [1]

  • Jan 15: A projectile struck the side of the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier Spirit of Shinas, operated by coversight Capital. Dramatic footage shows a projectile slamming into the vessel’s hull. [2]

  • Jan 16: An unidentified chemical tankertransiting the southern Red Sea near Yemen was struck on the hull. The extent of any damage is unclear. [3]

  • Jan 18: The Indian Navy frigate INS Trikand responded to a distress call from merchant vessel M/V Chamomile, which had likely been attacked by an anti-ship missile launched from Yemen’s Al Hudaydah port. All 26 crew were safely evacuated. [4]

Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea has claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating they were retaliation for the ongoing military intervention by the Saudi-led coalition that backs the internationally recognized Yemeni government. [5]

The attacks have raised alarms over threats to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Over 10% of global trade passes through the Red Sea each year, including oil shipments between the Middle East and Europe. [6]

Date Vessel Operator Damage/Casualties
Jan 12 Chem Ranger Ray Shipping Minor damage
Jan 15 Spirit of Shinas Coversight Capital Hull strike
Jan 16 Unidentified tanker Unknown Hull strike
Jan 18 M/V Chamomile Unknown Evacuated crew

U.S. Steps Up Airstrikes in Retaliation

In response to the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping, U.S. forces have conducted multiple strikes targeting Houthi missile and drone sites:

  • Jan 8: Two strikes on Houthi facilities in Sanaa. [7]
  • Jan 10: A strike destroyed a drone workshop in Sanaa. [7]
  • Jan 13: Three strikes on Houthi missile launch sites. [7]
  • Jan 17: Two strikes targeting Houthi missile facilities. [8]
  • Jan 18: A strike on a loaded Houthi missile launcher in Al Hudaydah. [9]
  • Jan 19: A pre-emptive strike destroyed a Houthi anti-ship missile before launch. [10]
  • Jan 20: Strikes by U.S. Navy fighter jets targeted Houthi missile launchers. [11]

In total, over a dozen strikes have been carried out. But while the U.S. insists these are purely defensive actions, the Houthis have vowed retaliation and continued their attacks undeterred.

U.S. President Joe Biden stated “We are not going to step back and we’re not going to withdraw,” suggesting the U.S. campaign will ramp up further if Houthi aggression persists. [12]

International Response

The escalation has prompted growing calls for de-escalation and ceasefire talks:

  • The UN Special Envoy has urged “maximum restraint by all parties”, warning the strikes risk dragging Yemen into wider regional conflict. [13]
  • Iran has condemned what it calls “criminal attacks” by the U.S. and stated it will “spare no effort” in supporting the Houthis. [14]
  • The Arab League has backed the right of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to defend themselves against Houthi attacks. [15]
  • China and Russia have criticized the U.S. strikes, calling for ceasefire talks instead of military action. [16]

Background to the Conflict

The recent clashes are the latest bout of violence in Yemen’s long and complex civil war between Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis are an Iran-aligned rebel group from northern Yemen seeking greater political power and autonomy. Their formal name is Ansar Allah (“Supporters of God”). Key facts:

  • Emerged in the 1990s under leadership of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi.
  • Mix of Zaidi Shia Islam with anti-Western/Israel ideology.
  • Exploited chaos of 2011 Arab Spring protests to seize territory.
  • Took over the capital Sanaa in 2014, ousting the government.
  • Receive financing and weapons from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
  • Launch frequent missile/drone attacks into Saudi Arabia. [17]

Saudi-Led Military Intervention

In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Arab states to intervene against the Houthis after they toppled Yemen’s government. The air and sea blockade aims to reinstate the internationally recognized president.

  • Devastating impact on Yemeni civilians through airstrikes and blockade.
  • Stalemate – the Houthis still control much of the north.
  • poisoning relations between Gulf states and Iran. [18]

Outlook and Analysis

This recent flare-up of hostilities shows the intractable nature of the conflict. With both sides trading blows, experts warn the risk of miscalculation leading to further escalation is high.

However, the Houthis have proven resilient against far worse military pressure in the past. They are unlikely to back down or offer concessions under further duress. Meanwhile the U.S. strikes have failed to deter them from attacking commercial shipping.

Instead, the only viable path forward highlighted by observers is an immediate ceasefire and renewal of UN-led peace talks between both sides of Yemen’s civil war. Though given deep mutual hostility, negotiations face substantial obstacles towards a settlement.

In the meantime, threats to merchant shipping in the Red Sea remain elevated. Vessels transiting the area are advised to exercise extreme caution and implement defensive preparations. We are likely to see more military exchanges and brinkmanship as long as underlying grievances continue unaddressed diplomatically.

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/houthi-rebels-missile-attack-u-s-owned-commercial-ship-chem-ranger/
[2] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12986755/amp/Dramatic-moment-Houthi-missile-smashes-merchant-ship-Red-Sea-UK-explore-ways-step-military-campaign-against-militants.html
[3] https://www.reuters.com/world/us-strikes-another-houthi-anti-ship-missile-2024-01-20/
[4] https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2024-01-18/indian-navy-rescues-crew-after-attack-on-ship-off-coast-of-yemen
[5] https://apnews.com/article/yemen-houthis-us-military-strikes-dec1682fcb279904f84a8246e987f3fb
[6] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/12/who-are-yemens-houthis-a-basic-guide
[7] https://abcnews.go.com/amp/Politics/us-strikes-houthis-yemen-after-biden-vowed-continue/story?id=106523055
[8] https://www.reuters.com/world/us-strikes-another-houthi-anti-ship-missile-2024-01-20/
[9] https://www.forbes.com/sites/siladityaray/2024/01/18/us-military-targets-loaded-missiles-in-fourth-set-of-strikes-against-houthis/amp/
[10] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-01-20/us-says-air-strike-hits-houthi-anti-ship-missile-before-launch
[11] https://www.military.com/daily-news/2024/01/20/us-navy-fighter-jets-strike-houthi-missile-launchers-yemen-officials-say.html/amp
[12] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/19/us-says-not-at-war-with-houthis-biden-admits-strikes-not-halting-attacks
[13] https://twitter.com/CrisisGroup/status/1747982171711652197
[14] https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/article-783018
[15] https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/arabian-gulf/2024/01/18/arab-league-affirms-support-for-us-strikes-on-houthis/
[16] https://www.rferl.org/a/china-russia-us-strikes-houthi-rebels-yemen-cease-fire/32494130.html
[17] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-67955727.amp
[18] https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/12/yemen-houthi-rebels-who-are-they-what-attacking-us-uk-airstrikes-red-sea-crisis

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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