Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah condemn attacks

US, UK airstrikes pound Yemen for first time after weeks of Houthi Red Sea attacks

US official says Iran is primary enabler of rebel group responsible for post-October 7 maritime disruptions; Houthi official vows retaliation, as fears of regional escalation grow

A strike on Houthi rebel sites in Yemen on January 12, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
A strike on Houthi rebel sites in Yemen on January 12, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

SANAA, Yemen — Heavy US and British airstrikes pounded targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen early Friday after weeks of disruptive attacks on Red Sea shipping by the Iran-backed rebel forces.

The strikes targeted an airbase, airports and a military camp, the Houthi rebels’ Al-Masirah TV station said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is in hospital due to surgery complications, said in a statement that the strikes targeted Houthi capabilities including drones, ballistic and cruise missiles, costal radar and air surveillance.

Unverified images on social media, some of them purportedly of Al-Dailami airbase north of Sanaa, showed explosions lighting up the sky as loud bangs and the roar of planes sounded.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree claimed the strikes killed five members of the Iran-backed group and wounded six.

“Our country was subjected to a massive aggressive attack by American and British ships, submarines and warplanes,” Houthi Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Al-Ezzi said, according to official rebel media.

“America and Britain will have to prepare to pay a heavy price and bear all the dire consequences of this blatant aggression,” he added.

Iran and the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups all condemned the attacks, with Tehran calling them a “clear violation of Yemen’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a breach of international laws, regulations, and rights.”

US President Joe Biden called the US and British strikes a “defensive action” after the Red Sea attacks and said he “will not hesitate” to order further military action if needed.

The strikes involved fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles, several US media outlets said. US officials did not immediately confirm the reports when contacted by AFP.

“Today, at my direction, US military forces — together with the United Kingdom and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands -— successfully conducted strikes against a number of targets in Yemen used by Houthi rebels to endanger freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways,” Biden said in a statement, using an alternate spelling of Houthi.

He called the strikes a “direct response” to “unprecedented” attacks by the Houthis, “including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history.”

“These attacks have endangered US personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardized trade, and threatened freedom of navigation,” he said.

“I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, and US President Joe Biden speak at the start of the meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) during the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 11, 2023. (Paul Ellis/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Saudi’s ‘great concern’

The strikes were “necessary and proportionate,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

A joint statement by the US, Britain, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea said the “aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea.”

“But let our message be clear: we will not hesitate to defend lives and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats,” it said.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia, which is trying to end its involvement in a nine-year war with the Houthis, urged against escalation.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is following with great concern the military operations,” a foreign ministry statement said, calling for “self-restraint and avoiding escalation.”

The Houthis have carried out a growing number of attacks on what they deem to be Israel-linked shipping on the key international route since Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, describing the attacks as demonstrations of solidarity with the terror group.

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 Aug. 9, 2023. (Mass Communications Spc. 2nd Class Moises Sandoval/U.S. Navy via AP)

In his statement, Biden said that on Tuesday the Houthis “launched their largest attack to date — directly targeting American ships.”

The Western strikes risk turning an already-tense situation in the Middle East into a wider conflagration pitting the United States and Israel against Iran and its regional proxies.

The Houthi rebels say they are acting in response to Israel’s counter-terror offensive in Gaza and have also launched a series of drones and missiles towards Israel.

The group has controlled a major part of Yemen since a civil war erupted there in 2014, and is part of the Iran-backed “axis of resistance” arrayed against Israel.

A US official briefing reporters after the airstrikes said Iran has been the Houthis’ “primary enabler” and has been “involved operationally” in the rebel group’s recent spate of attacks.

“They’ve provided the Houthis the very capabilities used to conduct these attacks,” the US official said.

Regarding consequences for Iran, the US official pointed to an ongoing “deep pressure campaign” targeting Tehran for its support of malign actors in the region but declined to offer specifics.

“Suffice it to say that we do hold Iran responsible for the role that [it] has played with the Houthis and with the other groups in the region that have conducted attacks against US forces and made (Tehran) aware of that.


The United States and its allies had issued a series of increasingly stern warnings to the Houthis to stop the shipping attacks, although Washington has been cautious about the risks of further inflaming regional tensions.

Washington set up an international coalition in December — dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian — to protect maritime traffic in the area, through which 12 percent of world trade flows.

Twelve nations led by the United States later warned the Houthis on January 3 of “consequences” unless they immediately stopped attacks on commercial vessels.

But late Tuesday the Houthis launched what London called the most significant attack yet by the Yemeni rebels, with US and British forces shooting down 18 drones and three missiles.

In this photo provided by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, taken from the bridge of HMS Diamond, Sea Viper missiles are fired in the Red Sea. UK Ministry of Defence via AP)

The final straw for the Western allies appeared to come early Thursday when the US military said the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into a shipping lane in the Gulf of Aden.

It was the 27th attack on international shipping in the Red Sea since November 19, the US military said.

The intensifying attacks have caused shipping companies to divert around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, sparking fears of a shock to the global economy.

The United States strengthened its military posture in the region immediately after the October 7 terror attacks on Israel, which left over 1,200 dead and some 240 taken hostage into Gaza. Washington subsequently warned Iran and its allies not to escalate the situation.

The Biden administration was initially cautious in its response as it is seeking to preserve a fragile peace in Yemen, where a decade of civil war and a Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign have led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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