US navy destroys Houthi missile that posed ‘imminent threat’ to aircraft

Iran-backed rebels in Yemen claim to strike American merchant ship sailing for Israel; maritime security firm says vessel targeted off coast of Aden, doesn’t specify nationality

A 20mm Phalanx CIWS weapons defense cannon is mounted on the US Navy destroyer USS Gravely on, March 14, 2023. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)
A 20mm Phalanx CIWS weapons defense cannon is mounted on the US Navy destroyer USS Gravely on, March 14, 2023. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

American forces destroyed a missile belonging to Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Wednesday that posed an “imminent threat” to US aircraft, the military said.

The United States has carried out strikes on the Houthis both unilaterally and jointly with Britain, but previous air raids were focused on reducing the rebels’ ability to target international shipping rather than addressing a danger to aircraft.

US forces “struck and destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch” after determining that it “presented an imminent threat to US aircraft,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

CENTCOM did not identify the type of aircraft that was threatened or the exact location of the strike, only saying that it took place in “Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.”

Houthi-run Al-Masirah television had earlier said US and UK aircraft had targeted the northern city of Saada but did not identify the specific target or provide information on damage or casualties.

The rebels began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

Houthi fighters stage a rally in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US-led airstrikes on Yemen, in Sanaa, Yemen, January 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

Israel’s military campaign was sparked by the Hamas terror group’s October 7 massacre, in which about 1,200 people were murdered in Israel and 253 were kidnapped amid horrific acts of brutality directed at civilians.

US and UK forces have responded with strikes on the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

Persistent attacks

Some of the US strikes have been carried out against missiles that CENTCOM has said posed an imminent threat to ships, indicating a robust surveillance effort focused on Houthi-controlled territory that likely involves military aircraft.

The United States also set up a multinational naval task force last month to help protect Red Sea shipping from the Houthis, who are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade.

In addition to military action, Washington has sought to put diplomatic and financial pressure on the Houthis, redesignating them as a terrorist organization earlier in January after previously having dropped that label soon after US President Joe Biden took office.

But the Houthis’ attacks have persisted, with the rebels saying Wednesday that they targeted an American merchant ship bound for Israel with “several appropriate naval missiles that directly hit the vessel.”

Maritime security firm Ambrey said a commercial vessel was reportedly targeted with a missile southwest of Aden, and that the ship reported an explosion on its starboard side, but did not mention its nationality.

File: Members of the Yemeni Coast Guard affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea with Palestinian flags as demonstrators march through the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, in solidarity with the people of Gaza on January 4, 2024. (AFP)

Earlier the same day, the Houthis said they fired multiple missiles at the American destroyer the USS Gravely — a claim that came after CENTCOM said the warship downed an anti-ship cruise missile launched “from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea.”

Anger over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza — which it launched after the devastating onslaught by Hamas in October — has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, as well as Yemen.

American forces in the region have been attacked more than 165 times since mid-October.

A drone attack on a base in Jordan on Sunday killed three US soldiers, with Washington blaming Iran-backed militants and vowing a decisive response.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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