UK and US strike Houthi rebels in Yemen in ‘limited’ but ‘necessary action’

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UK and US strike Houthi rebels in Yemen in ‘limited’ but ‘necessary action’

The official slogan of the Houthi movement includes the words 'Death to America Death to Israel A Curse Upon the Jews'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Photo issued by US Central Command showing aircraft used in strikes in Yemen
Photo issued by US Central Command showing aircraft used in strikes in Yemen

UK and US forces have bombed military facilities used by Houthi rebels in Yemen in what Rishi Sunak described as “limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defence” after the Iranian-backed group attacked ships in the Red Sea.

The strikes on Thursday night were the first to be launched against the Houthi militants – whose official slogan includes the words Death to America Death to Israel A Curse Upon the Jews – since they started targeting international shipping in the key international trade route.

The Ministry of Defence said four Royal Air Force jets struck two Houthi facilities involved in their targeting of HMS Diamond and US Navy vessels on Tuesday.

One was a site at Bani and the other the Abbs airfield, used to launch drones and cruise missiles.

The Houthis have claimed their own attacks have been on Israel-linked shipping in the Red Sea in response to the country’s bombardment of Gaza since Hamas’ assault on Israel on October 7.

After Hamas carried out its atrocity in southern Israel, the Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi said his forces were “ready to move in the hundreds of thousands to join the Palestinian people and confront the enemy”.

The Houthis said all vessels in the Red Sea they perceived as linked to Israel or its allies would “become a legitimate target for armed forces”.

But many of their claims to have been striking Israeli owned vessels have proven to be false.

There is also some evidence that they were planning attacks in the Red Sea prior to the October 7th terror attack.

The US Air Force said it struck more than 60 targets at 16 sites in Yemen.

The UK and US had non-operational support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands.

Iran and Hezbollah both issued statements condemning the action. Iran said:”These attacks are a clear violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a breach of international laws. These attacks will only contribute to insecurity and instability in the region.”

Hezbollah said it “strongly condemn[ed] the blatant American-British aggression” against Yemen, which it said had stood with the Palestinian people. ‏

On Friday, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey played down concerns about the danger of escalation after criticism from Russia, which requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the strikes.

There are fears over a dramatic regional widening of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and rising tensions with Iran, which backs the Houthis and has condemned the air strikes.

Saudi Arabia has expressed “great concern” over the situation and has called for “restraint.”

Prime Minister Sunak said early on Friday morning, said it “cannot stand” that the Houthis continued to carry out “dangerous” attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea despite repeated warnings from the international community.

“The United Kingdom will always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer also said his party supported the need for action, with shadow defence secretary John Healey also defending the strikes in media interviews.

But Sunak now faces calls for him to make a statement in the Commons at the earliest opportunity over the support for the military action.

“I do want the Prime Minister obviously to make a statement to Parliament as soon as possible because the scope, nature and extent of the operation needs to be explained,” Starmer said.

The Liberal Democrats demanded a vote on the matter, and the SNP said any military action should be scrutinised in the Commons.

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran said MPs should not be “silenced” on the issue.

Unsurprisingly Jeremy Corbyn was among those to criticise the action describing the strikes as “a reckless act of escalation” and saying it “is utterly disgraceful that Parliament has not even been consulted”.

The Ministry of Defence said early indications are the strikes dealt a “blow” to the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant shipping in the Red Sea, through which some 15% of the world’s shipping passes.

But the Islamist militants said the strikes would not prevent them from continuing their attacks.

A high-ranking Houthi official, Ali al-Qahoum, posted on X: “The battle will be bigger… and beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British.”

The Houthis are a Yemeni militia group named after their founder, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, and representing the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, who emerged in the 1980s in opposition to Saudi Arabia’s religious influence in Yemen.

Former navy officer Ami Daniel, the co-founder and CEO of Windward, a global leader in maritime AI and risk analytics, has previously told Jewish News about the major impact on global supply chains as a result of Houthi actions in the Red Sea.

The attacks are significantly disrupting the flow of commercial goods through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, a key route for business between Asia and Western countries, and responsible for about 12 percent of global trade.

Daniel noted that when the Houthis attacked the CMA CGM vessel (one of the world’s largest container shipping companies) in November  – freight rates sky rocketed- with some quoting $6,000 for China to Europe trade, compared to $1,500 a couple of months earlier.

It also became apparent that claims by Houthis that they were just targeting Israel owned vessels in protest at the military actions in Gaza also proved to be incorrect.

“Originally the Houthi said they were going after Israeli vessels and vessels carrying stuff connected to Israel but in many of the attacks, we don’t see a connection with Israel,” said Daniel.

“I would say that they are looking to build their brand and therefore going after the biggest brands like CMA-CGM and Maersk.”He believes Western carriers are under the highest risk. 

“Having said that, the more the US navy and UK protect these vessels, I think they will go after other targets, as I believe their aim is to build their brand.”

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