UK said set to join campaign against Houthis as group warns of ‘consequences’

After US strike kills 10 members of Iran-backed group who attempted to board a container ship, Cameron tells Tehran it has a responsibility to prevent Houthi attacks

In this image provided by the US Navy, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and amphibious assault ship USS Bataan transit the Bab al-Mandeb strait on August 9, 2023. (Mass Communications Spc. 2nd Class Moises Sandoval/US Navy via AP)
In this image provided by the US Navy, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and amphibious assault ship USS Bataan transit the Bab al-Mandeb strait on August 9, 2023. (Mass Communications Spc. 2nd Class Moises Sandoval/US Navy via AP)

Britain is planning to join a US-led military campaign against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, to stop the group from continuing to disrupt maritime traffic through the Red Sea, the Sunday Times has reported.

The report, citing an unnamed UK government source, said that the UK, US, and possibly another European country will soon launch coordinated airstrikes against targets at sea or in Yemen itself where the Houthis are based.

The source added that any action taken by the UK would be “limited” but “significant.”

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 group since the deadly October 7 onslaught in southern Israel.

The attacks by the Yemeni rebels — who have said they are targeting Israel and Israeli-linked vessels — are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade, prompting the United States to set up a multinational naval task force earlier this month to protect Red Sea shipping.

The narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and then the Suez Canal. The crucial trade route links markets in Asia and Europe. The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged vessels, led multiple shipping companies to order their vessels to hold in place and not enter the strait until the security situation improved. Some major shippers were sending their ships around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, adding time and costs to the journeys.

Since the US’s Operation Prosperity Guardian was announced, some 1,200 merchant ships have traveled through the Red Sea region, most of them passing through without incident.

Currently, there are five warships from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom patrolling the waters of the southern Red Sea and the western Gulf of Aden, said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who heads the 5th Fleet. Since the operation started, the ships have shot down a total of 17 drones and four anti-ship ballistic missiles, he said.

US Navy Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who heads the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, speaks at an event at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 21, 2023. (AP Photo/ Jon Gambrell, File)

On Saturday, The US military said it shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired toward a Maersk container ship in the Red Sea after the ship reported it had been hit by a missile.

Two Navy destroyers responded to the call for help, and the Denmark-owned vessel was reportedly seaworthy and no injuries were noted, according to a statement from US Central Command.

Just hours later, four Houthi boats fired at the same ship and tried to board, Central Command said. US forces on two helicopters responded to the distress call and were also fired upon before they sank three of the Houthi vessels and killed the crews, Central Command said. The fourth boat fled the area. No damage to US personnel or equipment was reported.

Following the attack, Maersk announced that it would be pausing all sailing through the Red Sea for 48 hours, just days after scheduling an almost complete return to the Red Sea shipping route.

At least 10 Houthi rebels were killed during the incident, two sources at Yemen’s rebel-controlled Hodeida port said. One source at the port said the wounded were rescued following the strike. The other source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says there were four other survivors.

Following the US strike, the rebel group threatened the US with “consequences,” vowing that it will continue to assault ships with connections to Israel or that are sailing toward Israeli ports.

Houthi military spokesman, Brigadier Yahya Saree, delivers a statement on the recent attacks against two commercial vessels in the Red Sea during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza in the capital Sanaa on December 15, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Yahya Saree, the Houthi military spokesperson, said in a video statement that his Iran-backed forces have been acting in support of Palestinians and carrying out their “religious, moral and humanitarian duty” in support of Gaza. He called on other countries not to “engage in the dangerous American behavior,” warning that they will face consequences if they choose to do so.

The spokesman urged all Yemenis, Arabs, and Muslims to be “vigilant and prepared for all options to confront the American escalation” in support of the “Zionist entity.”

While Iran has claimed that the Houthis in Yemen, as well as their other proxies including Hamas and Hezbollah, are acting independently, Tehran has provided the rebel group with unmanned aerial systems, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles in the past, some of which have been used in the recent attacks in the Red Sea.

On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he had made clear in a call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian that Iran shared responsibility for preventing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks, given their long-standing support to the Houthis,” he said in a post on social media site X, adding that the attacks “threaten innocent lives and the global economy.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 5, 2023, after attending a cabinet meeting. (Ben Stansall/AFP)

In response to Cameron, Iran’s state media quoted Amirabdollahian as saying, “The Israeli regime cannot be allowed to commit massacres of women and children and genocide in Gaza and set the region on fire, while the stopping of a Zionist ship in the Red Sea is seen as endangering the security of this economic waterway.”

While the rebel group continues to claim it is only targeting ships with connections to Israel, it has broadened this to include virtually any ships passing through the shipping route, including those flagged to countries such as Norway and Libya.

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