The Biden administration and its allies have dramatically escalated military action against Yemen’s Houthi rebels in recent days in response to repeated Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The attacks have threatened vital global trade routes, prompting stern warnings as well as new sanctions and strikes by the US and UK.
US Navy Shoots Down Incoming Houthi Missiles
On January 24th, the US Navy destroyed two Houthi ballistic missiles that were targeting a commercial ship, the SLS Detroit, flagged by the United States and operated by shipping giant Maersk. The missiles were shot down by the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely over the Gulf of Aden .
This attack came just days after the Houthis struck another vessel operated by Maersk with an explosive drone boat. While no damage was reported in that incident either, it highlights the increasing danger posed by the Houthis to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes .
US and Allies Respond with Airstrikes
In response to the attempted strikes on the SLS Detroit, the US military launched several rounds of airstrikes targeting Houthi missile and drone facilities in Yemen and storage sites across the border in Iran . The UK also participated in some of the bombing runs .
US Central Command stated that the coordinated strikes were aimed at degrading the Houthis’ ability to threaten shipping and launch attacks into Saudi Arabia and the UAE, key US allies . However, some analysts warn the strikes could further destabilize Yemen and spur additional Houthi attacks .
|Houthi missile, drone facilities
|Houthi weapons sites
|Iran-linked Houthi warehouses
Table 1: Recent US and allied airstrikes against Houthi targets
Sanctions Imposed on Key Houthi Figures
Alongside the military response, the US and UK governments announced new sanctions targeting three top Houthi military leaders who help oversee the rebel group’s offensive operations .
The sanctions singled out key members of the Houthi movement involved in acquiring weapons components and technology from Iran to attack shipping and launch missiles and drones into Saudi territory. The sanctions freeze any US or UK-based assets held by the Houthi officials and prohibit American and British citizens from conducting business with them .
International Pressure Mounting on Houthis
The fresh military and economic actions by the US, UK, and allies represent a concerted effort to change the Houthis’ strategic calculus regarding attacks on commercial traffic in the Red Sea . However, some diplomatic experts say the only way to end Houthi aggression is through negotiations rather than further confrontation .
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of US senators wrote to President Biden questioning whether he had proper legal authority for the strikes in Yemen without congressional approval . This could portend more oversight and constraints on the administration’s military options going forward.
The European Union, United Nations, and other international bodies have also strongly denounced the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea and urged restraint by all parties. However, the rebels show no signs of halting their maritime raids . With global concern rising over potential disruptions to critical commercial sea lanes, the risk of further escalation between the Houthis and their opponents remains high in the tense days ahead .
So in summary, the latest developments include:
- Repeated Houthi strikes on shipping prompting US Navy to intercept missiles
- Intensified bombing campaign by US and allies targeting rebel missile sites
- New US/UK sanctions against top Houthi military leaders
- Pressure on Biden to explain legal rationale for strikes without Congress
- International calls for restraint but no let-up so far from the Houthis
- Increased danger of more clashes and regional instability
The path forward promises to be perilous as all sides seem determined to stand their ground. Diplomatic efforts will be key to avoiding uncontrolled escalation in this volatile region of the Middle East.
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