Houthi rebels threatened to retaliate against strikes carried out early Friday by the United States and the United Kingdom in Yemen, by attacking the interests of these two countries, now considered “legitimate targets”.
They also fired after the strikes “at least one missile” which however did not hit any ship, indicated General Douglas Sims of the American General Staff. The Houthis have not commented on this subject.
US President Joe Biden then reiterated that he “will respond” if the rebels “continue their unacceptable behavior”.
In the context of the war between Israel and Hamas, tension has risen a notch in the Red Sea, the scene since November of numerous attacks against merchant shipping, carried out by Yemeni rebels supported by Iran, the Houthis claiming to target ships linked to Israel in solidarity with the Gaza Strip.
Early Friday, American and British strikes targeted military sites held by the Houthis, who control large areas of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa, reviving fears of a regional spillover of the war in Gaza triggered by the attack without precedent carried out by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Israeli soil on October 7.
“All American-British interests have become legitimate targets for the Yemeni armed forces after the direct and declared aggression” against Yemen, warned the Supreme Political Council of the Houthis, a high authority of the rebels, in a press release on Friday.
” Success “
The American and British strikes, “73 raids”, targeted military sites in Sanaa and in the governorates of Hodeida, Taiz, Hajjah and Saada, the Houthi military spokesperson indicated earlier.
Gen. Douglas Sims said Friday that 30 military positions were targeted, with a total of more than 150 strikes.
The Houthi movement is part of the “axis of resistance” established by Iran, which brings together groups hostile to Israel in the region, notably Lebanese Hezbollah and armed groups in Iraq and Syria.
“This aggression […] will not go unanswered,” said the Houthi spokesperson, indicating that five people had been killed and six injured among the rebels.
The American President, Joe Biden, spoke for his part of an operation carried out “successfully”, evoking a “defensive” action to protect international trade in particular.
Blaming them for ignoring “repeated warnings from the international community”, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the strikes as “necessary” measures. […] in self-defense.
In a joint statement, Washington, London and eight of their allies including Australia, Canada and Bahrain stressed that their objective was “de-escalation” in the Red Sea.
NATO called on the Houthis to stop their attacks after these “defensive” strikes.
In Moscow, the Kremlin condemned Western strikes that were “illegitimate from the point of view of international law”, as did Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking of a “disproportionate” response. The operation will have “repercussions on regional security”, responded Hamas for its part.
The Sultanate of Oman, mediator between Houthis and loyalist forces in the civil war in Yemen, denounced the “resort to military action by friendly countries”.
Calls for restraint
China, for its part, called on the parties “to show restraint”.
A call for calm was also launched by Saudi Arabia, at the head of an anti-Houthi military coalition intervening since 2015 in the civil war in Yemen alongside the government. The situation has been relatively calm since a truce negotiated in April 2022 by the UN.
At the UN, Secretary General Antonio Guterres also called on “all parties concerned to avoid an escalation […] in the interest of peace and stability in the Red Sea and in the entire region,” according to its spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.
The Houthi attacks, carried out with missiles and drones, have pushed many shipowners to abandon the Red Sea corridor between Europe and Asia, at the cost of an increase in transport costs and times, the latest being Friday the Danish shipping company Torm.
To deal with this, the United States set up a multinational coalition in December to protect maritime traffic in this area through which 12% of world trade passes.
The Houthis launched 18 drones and three missiles on Tuesday which were shot down by three US destroyers, a British ship and warplanes. The British government has called it the “largest attack” by Yemeni rebels to date.
On tour this week in the Middle East, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, issued a warning to the Houthis, and the UN Security Council demanded an “immediate” end to their attacks. But on Thursday, the Houthis fired another anti-ship missile.
The rebels have carried out 27 attacks since November 19 near the Bab el-Mandeb strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, according to the American army.
Iran, for its part, condemned a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty” of Yemen. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Tehran on Friday in support of the rebels and Palestinians in Gaza.
In Sanaa, hundreds of thousands of people protested against the American and British strikes. “Death to America, death to Israel,” the demonstrators chanted.
Despite the American strikes, Washington is not “seeking conflict with Iran,” the White House assured Friday.