Iran ‘deeply involved’ in planning Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping — White House

Washington intensifies rhetoric, declassifies intelligence tying Tehran to breakdown of key shipping route, but holds off on re-designating Houthis as a terror group

Yemenis in Houthi-controlled territory brandishing their guns chant slogans during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza, in the capital Sanaa on December 15, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)
Yemenis in Houthi-controlled territory brandishing their guns chant slogans during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza, in the capital Sanaa on December 15, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Iran has been “deeply involved” in the planning of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels against commercial vessels in the Red Sea, the Biden administration said on Friday, intensifying its rhetoric against Tehran amid the growing crisis surrounding global shipping efforts.

Citing newly declassified American intelligence, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that Iran is providing weapons, funding, training and “tactical intelligence” to enable the strikes along the critical sea corridor.

“Iranian support throughout the Gaza crisis has enabled the Houthis to launch attacks against Israel and maritime targets, though Iran has often deferred operational decision-making authority to the Houthis,” Watson said.

“Since 2015, Iran has transferred advanced weapons systems to the Houthis, including Unmanned Aerial Systems, Land Attack Cruise Missiles, and ballistic missiles that have been used in attacks against maritime vessels, including commercial vessels with no known links to Israel, and in attacks against Israel since October,” she revealed.

Without ongoing Iranian support, “the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels,” Watson said.

Iran, which has long backed the Yemeni rebels, has provided unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles to the Houthis, including those used in recent strikes on commercial and military vessels and attempted attacks on Israel, according to the US assessment.

Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen publish a video showing how the group hijacked an Israeli-linked shipping vessel in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

“We have no reason to believe that Iran is trying to dissuade the Houthis from this reckless behavior,” Watson said.

The Houthi campaign has prompted a growing list of companies to halt operations in the major trade route.

The US has established a naval coalition to protect the Red Sea global shipping lane. However, the Biden administration has not yet taken the step to reverse its decision to declassify the Houthis as a terror organization. US officials say Washington is still considering the move.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Greece announced that it was joining the US-led naval coalition.

Australia also announced Thursday that it would send 11 personnel to support the coalition, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, but no warships or planes.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said that Australia’s military needs to keep focused on the Pacific region.

A Yemeni man carries a gun as he takes part in a march to express solidarity with the people of Gaza, in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on December 2, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

The task force announced by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday initially included Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

The Iran-backed Houthis say their missile and drone strikes on passing container ships are in support of Palestinians in the Gaza war raging between Israel and terror group Hamas since October 7. The Yemeni rebel group had announced that it would target any ship heading to Israel or linked to it, though a number of vessels with no apparent connection to Israel have been targeted as well.

Several other countries have also agreed to be involved in the operation but prefer not to be publicly named, a US defense official said Monday on the condition of anonymity to discuss additional details of the new mission that have not been publicly announced.

War erupted when Hamas carried out a devastating attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Terrorists who burst through border with the Gaza Strip also abducted at least 240 people who were taken as hostages into the Palestinian enclave.

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on November 19, 2023 in the Red Sea. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

Israel responded with a military campaign which it says is aimed at destroying Hamas and freeing the hostages.

The Houthi attacks in waters leading to the Suez Canal, a chokepoint for about 10 percent of global trade, have forced many shipping companies to divert their vessels.

Companies have ordered their ships to hold in place and not enter the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea until the security situation can be addressed.

A day after Austin announced the task force operation, the Houthi rebels vowed to keep up attacks on ships, declaring they would not be deterred by the naval coalition.

Houthis have also launched missiles and drones at southern Israel, which were intercepted by air defense systems.

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