The United States and the United Kingdom are actively seeking methods to intensify their efforts against Houthi militants in Yemen while avoiding the escalation of a wider conflict. They could focus on targeting Iranian resupplies and launch more aggressive pre-emptive strikes, people familiar with the matter said. They also may push for more naval operations and other military steps to reopen a key trade route that was blocked by the Houthis’ threats and attacks on commercial ships since 19 November.
The US has not signaled a point at which its patience would run out, and it might strike back, but the Houthis’ repeated attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden led to the decision to act. Officials believe it’s unlikely the militants will cease their assaults, and they want to restore the flow of goods through the strait, which handles about 12% of global trade.
A senior US administration official said the British campaign is based on the principle that freedom of navigation and commerce in one of the world’s most critical maritime areas must be protected. “We have a responsibility to protect our merchants and their crews,” the official said. The administration’s approach is “a prudent response to the clear and present danger of this Iranian-backed threat to international shipping in the vital waterways of the Red Sea, Bab el Mandeb, and the Gulf of Aden,” the official added.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private deliberations. A separate official, who also asked for anonymity, described the US-British strikes as a retaliation against the Houthis’ “imminent” threats of new attacks on American and British-flagged ships. The official said the US had struck three missiles on their launch rails, a sign of the seriousness with which the administration took the threat to open sea lanes.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said Britain’s participation in the strikes underscored its determination to back up words with actions. Britain will continue to act in its “supreme national interest” and will “work with allies such as the United States to protect global shipping,” the spokesman said. The US-British campaign has received strong support from allies, including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, and South Korea.
The strikes were widely condemned by Iran, which accused the US of ignoring international law and violating its rights. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US of using its “arrogant, unilateral and aggressive armed force” to “destabilize the region.” The statement said the US-British operation was an escalation that benefits no one. It called on the United Nations Security Council to condemn the attacks and demand that the Houthis cease their threats and assaults. The resolution passed Wednesday, with 11 countries voting in favor and four abstaining. The United Kingdom and the US were among those that voted in favor, along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The domestic Liberal Democrats party has called for Parliament to vote on the strikes retrospectively.