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by Mick the Ram
In response to the strikes last week by US and UK naval forces against Houthi targets across Yemen, the rebels have responded with further attacks of their own.
An anti-ship cruise missile was first fired at the USS Laboon in the Red Sea, but was intercepted off the coast of Hudaydah by a US fighter aircraft.
Then 24 hours later, a ballistic missile got through and struck a US cargo ship, the Gibraltar Eagle, carrying steel products, approximately 100 miles (160km) offshore.
No injuries or significant damage was reported, and the vessel is known to have continued its journey into the Gulf of Aden.
On Friday 12 January, the US and UK hit nearly 30 locations in Yemen, including arms depots, logistical hubs and air defence systems. Then the following day the US struck a Houthi radar site.
Strong statements have been released by both leaders of the US and UK, as well as a Houthi spokesperson.
The strikes by the US and UK last week seemingly have had the effect of not only failing to alter the Houthis approach to shipping in the Red Sea, but it now appears that anything associated with the US is a valid target too.
The British maritime security firm, Ambrey, confirmed that the cargo ship, the Gibraltar Eagle, which was hit had been “assessed to not be Israel-affiliated”.
This drew a response from senior Houthi official, Nasr al-Din Amer, who said: “It is enough for ships to be American for us to target them”. Presumably the same applies to the UK too.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia group has continued to attack commercial shipping, with this latest hit demonstrating their absolute commitment, and also representing a willingness to take the warring area beyond the Red Sea and further into the Gulf of Aden.
Additionally, US Central Command confirmed that just a couple of hours prior to the strike, a cruise missile fired from Houthi-controlled areas, failed in flight and landed harmlessly in the water.
It was also reported that on the same day an unidentified ship had to fend off two small vessels, whose crew were trying to get onboard.
Vital shipping route
The Suez Canal is the fastest sea route between Asia and Europe and the Iranian-backed group have been using drones and rockets against foreign-owned vessels, transporting goods through a 20-mile wide channel, known as the strait of Bab al-Mandab, which separates Eritrea and Djibouti on the African side and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.
The attacks have meant some of the big shipping companies have taken the decision to divert around the Cape of Good Hope, adding some 3,500 nautical miles and significant costs to their journeys.
US President, Joe Biden, commenting on the reasons for the strikes last week, said they were “direct response” to the growing number of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. He added: “These attacks have endangered US personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardised trade, and threatened freedom of navigation.”
He went on to say that the targeted strikes were a clear message that the United States and their partners would not tolerate such attacks, and he would “not hesitate” to direct further measures to protect people and the free flow of commerce, should they continue.
PM addreses parliament
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, giving a commons statement, told MP’s that following the strikes that he had sanctioned, the government’s “initial assessment” was that all 13 planned targets had been destroyed, and no evidence had been produced to suggest any civilian casualties. He said the action taken was “proportionate”, limited, and not escalatory” and had been carried out “in self-defence.”
When pressed on whether there would be more military action the PM refused to speculate. Speaking specifically about the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, Mr Sunak highlighted how these had pushed up prices, and “imperils the passage of goods, foods and medicines that the British people and others rely on”.
He stressed that by not acting now, there was every reason to believe it would weaken international security and send a “dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game”.
Then defending his action, Mr Sunak remarked that it had been the “last resort” following “exhaustive diplomatic activity”.
Lord Cameron supports action
The UK Foreign Secretary and former PM, David Cameron made the point that is was “hard to remember a more unstable, dangerous and uncertain world”. He was quick to add that the UK is “prepared to back our words with actions”.
Speaking about the strikes on Yemen, he said “warning after warning” had been given to the rebel group, before cautioning everyone with his remark: “Red lights on the global dashboard are very much flashing”, referencing wars in the Middle East, Ukraine and Africa.
Saudis call for restraint
Saudi Arabia, who are a key ally to the US and UK, said they were watching developments with “great concern”. They have called for restraint, having tried unsuccessfully themselves to remove the Houthis and restore the official Yemeni government, who are currently based in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The majority of the Yemen’s population live in areas under Houthi control, paying the rebels taxes and required to use Houthi printed money.