French navy downs two drones over Red Sea as Houthis take aim at ‘Israeli’ ships

Multiple drone attacks originating in Yemen detected overnight; US military MQ-9 drone shot down near Yemen

A handout picture released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on February 15, 2024, shows a US navy cutter next to a vessel reportedly carrying a shipment of Iranian weapons destined for Yemen's Houthi rebels which was seized on January 28. (CENTCOM/AFP)
A handout picture released by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on February 15, 2024, shows a US navy cutter next to a vessel reportedly carrying a shipment of Iranian weapons destined for Yemen's Houthi rebels which was seized on January 28. (CENTCOM/AFP)

The French navy has shot down two drones over the Red Sea where Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been attacking ships, the defense ministry in Paris said Tuesday.

The navy, which has two frigates deployed in the area, detected “multiple drone attacks originating in Yemen” overnight Monday to Tuesday, before destroying two of the unmanned aircraft, the ministry said.

The attack came a day after the European Union formally launched a naval mission to protect Red Sea shipping from the Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of war-torn Yemen.

The rebels have been harassing the vital shipping lane since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war, which broke out on October 7 when thousands of Hamas terrorists invaded Israel’s south, killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages.

The EU aims to have the mission — called Aspides, Greek for “shield” — up and running in a “few weeks” with at least four vessels, an official said on Friday.

France has deployed the Alsace, a frigate with air defense capabilities, and the Languedoc, an anti-submarine frigate, in the area.

Houthi supporters attend a rally against the US-led strikes against Yemen and in the support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Sanaa, Yemen, February 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

The Languedoc previously shot down two drones in the Red Sea in self-defense in December, the foreign ministry said.

On Tuesday evening, the Houthis’ military spokesman Yahya Saree said they had “carried out a military operation using several drones against a number of enemy American warships.” He also said that the group had targeted an Israeli cargo ship, the MSC Silver, in the Gulf of Aden adjacent to the Red Sea, with missiles, and that the southern Israeli town of Eilat was targeted with drones.

The Houthis, who control Yemen’s most populous regions, have attacked vessels with commercial ties to the United States, Britain and Israel, shipping and insurance sources say, leading some companies to take alternative routes, including a two-week detour around southern Africa.

The US is already spearheading its own naval coalition in the area and has conducted retaliatory strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, as has Britain.

On Monday evening, the Houthis said they had targeted three vessels in the previous 24 hours, including the British-registered Rubymar, the US-owned Sea Champion and the Navis Fortuna, which they described as “American.”

“There is no danger to international or European navigation so long as there are no aggressive operations, and thus, there is no need to militarize the Red Sea,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said in a post on X on Tuesday.

“What the world is impatiently waiting for is not the militarization of the Red Sea, but rather an urgent and comprehensive declaration of a ceasefire in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons that are clear to anyone.”

Also on Monday, a US military MQ-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Houthi rebels, according to two US officials. This marks the second time such a shootdown has taken place in recent months during a near-daily tit-for-tat between the group and US forces. In November, another MQ-9 was shot down by the Houthis, and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.

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