Twelve nations led by the United States on Wednesday jointly warned Yemen’s Houthi rebels of unspecified consequences unless they halt their attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
The statement released by the White House came after several reports that President Joe Biden’s administration is considering direct strikes on the Houthis, officially known as Ansar Allah, if the attacks continue.
In the statement, the coalition of nations said: “Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews.”
“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”
Signatories of the statement included the UK, which on Monday issued its own warning to the Houthis of “direct action,” as well as Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan.
Explaining the impetus behind the US-led joint statement, a senior US official told reporters Wednesday that Biden wanted to send “a very clear warning to the Houthis that they will bear the full consequences and responsibility for any further attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.”
“I would not anticipate another warning because this speaks very much for itself,” the official said in a briefing.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter, that this coalition was “united” in their stance against the Iran-backed rebel group.
“The Houthis must end their deadly and destabilizing attacks on vessels in the Red Sea,” he wrote. “The UK will always take action to defend freedom of navigation.”
We stand united. The Houthis must end their deadly and destabilising attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.
The UK will always take action to defend freedom of navigation. https://t.co/8Hbe5kRvB4
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) January 3, 2024
The only regional country to sign the statement was Bahrain, the tiny Gulf state that has particularly tense relations with Iran, which counts the Houthis as one of its many proxies in the region.
The group’s slogan officially goes: “God Is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.”
The Iran-backed Houthis have repeatedly targeted vessels in the vital Red Sea shipping lane with strikes that they say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel has been engaged in a war with the ruling Hamas terror organization since the deadly October 7 onslaught in southern Israel in which terrorists massacred 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages.
While they claim to only target ships with ties to Israel, the Houthi rebels have also threatened unrelated ships, disrupting maritime trade and causing some of the largest shipping companies in the world to opt for other routes.
On Wednesday, the United Nations maritime agency said eighteen shipping companies are re-routing their vessels around Africa to avoid the Red Sea amid the Houthi attacks on international shipping.
“A significant number of companies, around 18 shipping companies, have already decided to reroute their vessels around South Africa in order to reduce the attacks on vessels,” said International Maritime Organization chief Arsenio Dominguez.
“(This) represents an additional 10 days to the journeys (and) negative impact on trade and on increasing freight rates.”
Also Wednesday, members of the UN Security Council calling on the Houthis to halt their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, warning that they threaten regional stability, global freedom of navigation and food supplies.
Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kazuyuki Yamazaki, said during the council’s first formal meeting of 2024 that the “Security Council should take an appropriate action to deter additional threats by the Houthis and maintain international peace and security.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea were “blatant terror attacks,” and called for the Security Council to take immediate action.
In mid-December, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, an international task force consisting of some 20 nations tasked with guarding the Red Sea shipping route against Houthi attacks.
In addition, the United States sent two aircraft carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean, although the decision to withdraw the USS Gerald Ford in recent days has sparked concerns.
In an effort to assuage Israeli concerns about the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw the aircraft carrier, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that the US will “continue to maintain a significant military force presence in the Middle East.”
The US military presence in the region includes the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower as well as an Amphibious Ready Group, which moved into the Eastern Mediterranean in recent days upon the departure of the USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier, Kirby said.
The US is not interested in seeing the Gaza conflict spread, “but neither will we shrink from the task of defending ourselves, our interests and our partners,” he added in reference to recent attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Meanwhile, the UK has sent a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Diamond, to join the maritime protection force and other British military vessels already in the Gulf as part of its longstanding maritime presence there.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.