Biden says US sent private message to Iran about Houthi attacks

US president says country ‘confident’ and ‘well-prepared’ amid Red Sea tensions, as Iran-backed rebels threaten to respond to strikes

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington on January 13, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
US President Joe Biden speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington on January 13, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday the United States had delivered a private message to Iran about the Iran-backed Houthi group that is responsible for attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

“We delivered it privately and we’re confident we’re well-prepared,” Biden told reporters at the White House before departing to the Camp David presidential retreat for the weekend.

The Houthi movement threatened a “strong and effective response” after the United States carried out another strike in Yemen overnight, further ratcheting up tensions as Washington vowed to protect shipping from attacks by the Iran-aligned group.

The latest strike, which the US said hit a radar site, came a day after dozens of other American and British strikes on Houthi facilities in Yemen.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said on Friday the initial strikes had hit the Houthis’ ability to store, launch, and guide missiles or drones, which the group has used to threaten shipping.

He said Washington had no interest in a war with Yemen.

Houthi supporters attend a protest against the United States-led airstrikes on Jan. 12, 2024, in Sanaa, Yemen (AP Photo)

Biden, whose administration removed the Houthis from a State Department list of “foreign terrorist organizations” in 2021, was asked by reporters on Friday whether he felt the term “terrorist” described the movement now. “I think they are,” Biden said.

The Houthi rebels — part of the regional Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against the United States, Israel and their allies — seized Yemen’s capital Sana’a in 2014 and now control large swaths of the country.

Yemen’s Houthis have launched a flurry of drone and missile attacks at Israel since the start of its war with Hamas on October 7, which they say is in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Israel launched its offensive after some 3,000 Hamas terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — but most have failed to reach their targets and many have been intercepted.

Since November, the Houthis have also repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they were avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade and energy shipments when supply strains are already putting upward pressure on inflation globally.

Around 12 percent of global trade normally passes through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the Red Sea entrance between southwest Yemen and Djibouti.

The attacks led several major shipping companies to suspend use of the route.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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