Houthis Fire Missiles at US Warship, Prompting Retaliation
The Houthis, a rebel group in Yemen, fired missiles at a US Navy warship sailing in the Red Sea on January 10th, prompting the US military to launch retaliatory strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.
According to US officials, two missiles were fired at the USS Laboon, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that was sailing off the coast of Yemen. The missiles missed the ship and landed harmlessly in the sea. In response, the USS Cole, another Navy destroyer nearby, along with a Royal Navy frigate, launched strikes using Tomahawk cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs against Houthi missile production and storage facilities.
This was the first known attack by the Houthis directly targeting a US warship. Tensions between the Iran-backed rebels and the US have been rising amid an escalating conflict in Yemen. Just days earlier, the Houthis used bomb-laden drone boats and mines to damage several commercial ships sailing in the Red Sea. The US and its allies accused Iran of supplying advanced weapons to the Houthis used in these maritime attacks.
US and UK Warn Iran Over Support for Houthis
Both the US and UK have warned Iran over its support for the Houthis and threatened further action if attacks continue. The recent strikes were meant to degrade the Houthis’ military capabilities and deter future aggression, according to a statement from US Central Command.
However, some analysts say the attacks were also partly intended to send a signal to Tehran to restrain the rebels, who have grown increasingly assertive in recent months with backing from Iran. The US and others allege that Iran has provided missiles, drones, and training to the Houthis, enabling attacks against rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as international shipping lanes.
|Target of Houthi missile attack
|Launched retaliatory strikes against Houthis
|Launched strikes alongside USS Cole
Iran denies direct control over the Houthis but is widely believed to wield significant influence. Experts say the latest maritime attacks bear hallmarks of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The US statement after the strikes pointedly warned Tehran against continued enabling of Houthi aggression.
Escalation Raises Stakes in Bloody Yemen Conflict
The exchange of attacks raises the stakes in the seven-year war in Yemen that has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The conflict erupted in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa and much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition launched a military intervention in 2015 to try and restore the internationally recognized government.
The recent attacks could mark an escalation toward direct US involvement in the conflict. So far the Biden administration has sought to limit American participation, while still backing the Saudi coalition with arms sales and logistical support. Congressional Democrats have urged Biden to help end rather than expand US engagement in Yemen.
While further retaliation from the Houthis is expected, some experts hope the US strikes could bring warring parties back to the negotiating table to revive stalled peace talks. However others warn it may only intensify the violence which has already killed over 150,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“The US is essentially pouring gasoline on the fire,” said one analyst, arguing that strikes often provoke the Houthis into further aggression rather than deter them.
Only a ceasefire and inclusive political settlement can end the long running conflict, observers emphasize. Though after years of setbacks, the chances for peace still remain slim.
Houthis Vow Revenge as Strikes Continue
The Houthis have fiercely condemned the US and UK for undertaking “a dangerous escalation” and vowed to retaliate. Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi accused the US of targeting civilians while feigning claims about deterrence in a televised speech this week.
Houthi officials stated they will mount further attacks on US and allied warships sailing near Yemen’s coast. They also warned they may suspend cooperation with a two-month long UN-brokered ceasefire around the key port city of Hodeidah, which has so far reduced fighting and allowed fuel ships to dock. The rebels repeatedly reserved the right to respond to “enemy aggression” under the terms of the agreement.
Over the weekend, the US conducted additional airstrikes targeting Houthi military facilities maintaining the capability to carry out maritime attacks. Despite stated goals to degrade their abilities, recent US and allied efforts have been unable to fully halt Houthi attacks or blunt their resolve.
International Reaction Mixed as Crisis Develops
The US-led strikes have prompted varied international reactions. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, leading members of the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen’s war, offered full support and assistance for further American military action. Israel, Oman, and Bahrain also publicly backed the US retaliation.
Russia and China voiced criticism however, calling for restraint and expressing concerns the attacks could hamper peace prospects. The UK, France, and regional actor Turkey gave more tempered reactions, affirming justification for defensive retaliation while underscoring interests in de-escalation and a diplomatic solution.
Within the US, congressional Democrats also split over President Biden’s decision to order strikes without prior notification or approval. Progressives and anti-war voices condemned the move, arguing it unlawfully entangles America deeper in the Yemen quagmire. Centrist Democrats came to Biden’s defense, saying the limited strikes sent a warranted message while helping uphold freedom of navigation.
With tensions still simmering, the way forward remains uncertain. The White House continues consulting regional and NATO allies on additional deterrence plans if Houthi aggression persists. But hopes are waning for a peaceful outcome to the crisis, while the administration faces growing calls in Congress to pull back rather than plunge ahead militarily.
So the volatile situation surrounding the warring parties and their international backers remains decidedly precarious. The latest developments represent only the opening chapter in a crisis that threatens to spiral out of control. All sides are bracing for what comes next.
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