The Houthis said they targeted a US ship in retaliation for the killing of rebels who tried to attack a container ship by using speed boats last month.
The Houthis have carried out a series of attacks on commercial shipping routes in the Red Sea since November 2023, according to the US military.
The group has claimed that it is targeting ships linked to Tel Aviv in protest at Israeli actions during the war in the Gaza Strip.
Iranian-designed one-way attack drones, anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen towards international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea on Tuesday night, according to the US military.
F/A-18 warplanes from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower, which is deployed in the Red Sea, along with four destroyers, the USS Gravely, USS Laboon, USS Mason and HMS Diamond, shot down eighteen drones, two cruise missiles and one ballistic missile.
HMS Diamond shot down seven Houthi drones using its million-dollar Sea Viper missiles and guns, a defence source told the BBC.
Houthi spokespersons have confirmed operations involving ‘a large number of ballistic and naval missiles and drones.’
‘The operation came as an initial response to the treacherous assault on our naval forces by the US enemy forces.’
The militia group warned in December that it would not lessen the number of attacks until Gaza received ‘the food and medicines it needs.’
The rebels would ‘not hesitate to adequately deal with all hostile threats as part of the legitimate right to defend our country, people and nation.’
The group reiterated that the attacks are to ‘prevent Israeli ships or ships heading towards occupied Palestine from navigating in both the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea until the [Israeli] aggression [on Gaza] has come to an end and the blockade has been lifted.’
While the Houthis are using expensive anti-ship ballistic missiles and uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), i.e. explosive boat drones, with Iranian help along with intelligence, they are proving to be a handful for the air defences of Western warships.
If these rebel attacks continue, then ‘direct military action’ by the US and UK is possibly imminent.
The UK defence secretary, Grant Shapps, said in a TV interview that Iran was ‘behind so much of the bad things happening in the region’ and warned the Houthis that there would be ‘consequences’ if the attacks on shipping did not stop.
Asked if there could be Western military action against Houthi targets in Yemen, or even targets inside Iran, he replied, ‘I can’t go into details but can say the joint statement we issued set out a very clear path that if this doesn’t stop then action will be taken. So, I’m afraid the simplest thing to say [is] ‘watch this space.’
The Red Sea, which is linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal is the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, accounting for 15 per cent of the global sea trade.
A protracted conflict will see fuel prices rise and supply chains will be damaged.
The International Chamber of Shipping says 20% of the world’s container ships are now avoiding the Red Sea and using the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa instead.
Formally known as the ‘Ansar Allah’ (Partisans of God), the Houthis began as a movement that championed Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority.
In 2014, they took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, seizing large parts of western Yemen the following year, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene in support of the international-recognized Yemeni government.
The ensuing war has reportedly killed more than 150,000 people and left 21 million people need of humanitarian assistance.
Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of smuggling weapons, including drones and cruise and ballistic missiles, to the Houthis, in violation of a UN arms embargo.
Iran has denied the allegations.
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