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US, UK launch first military strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen

03:18 AM Jan 13, 2024 IST | SURINDER SINGH OBEROI
us  uk launch first military strikes against houthi rebels in yemen
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New Delhi, Jan 12 : In response to the recent spate of major attacks on Red Sea shipping by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the United States, and the United Kingdom, supported by allies, have launched military action against the Iran-backed group in Yemen. A series of precision strikes involving US warship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and jets targeted over 12 sites, including the Houthi stronghold of Sanaa and the Red Sea port of Hudaydah.

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Four RAF Typhoon jets also participated in the strikes, taking off from the Akrotiri base in Cyprus. US President Biden warned of potential further measures to ensure the free flow of commerce in the region.

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In a coordinated effort, the governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the UK, and the US issued a joint statement, underscoring the “broad consensus” within the international community against the Houthi rebels. The statement referred to a UN Security Council resolution from the previous month, urging the rebels to cease their attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on Wednesday, calling for an immediate halt to Houthi attacks and endorsing the right of UN member states to defend their vessels. The joint statement clarified that the multilateral strikes were conducted “in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence.” The allies explained that the precision strikes aimed to disrupt and degrade the capabilities the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of international mariners in the critical waterway.

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The primary goal of the military action, as emphasized by the allies, is to “de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea.” While the military operation unfolds, Saudi Arabia has urged the US and its allies to exercise restraint and “avoid escalation,” expressing great concern over the situation.

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US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined that the joint military action targeted the disruption and degradation of the Houthi’s capabilities, focusing on unmanned aerial vehicles, uncrewed surface vessels, land-attack cruise missiles, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities.

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This decision follows a warning from White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, who stated that the US would respond to continued Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping. Houthi rebels, supported by Iran and controlling significant portions of Yemen, claim their attacks support their ally Hamas in Gaza, targeting shipping destined for Israel.

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Despite the UN resolution, the Houthis dismissed it as a “political game” and continued their attacks, citing opposition to Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza. Eleven nations supported the resolution, while Russia, China, Mozambique, and Algeria abstained from voting.

Houthi deputy foreign minister Hussein al-Izzi warned that the US and UK would “pay a heavy price” for this “blatant aggression.” The International Chamber of Shipping reported that due to heightened tensions, 20% of the world’s container ships are now avoiding the Red Sea, opting for the longer route around the southern tip of Africa.

Claiming to have targeted a U.S. ship supporting Israel on Tuesday, the Houthi rebels have been responsible for 26 attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November 19. Pentagon officials report a total of 27 attacks launched by the group since November 19, maintaining a tense and escalating situation in the region.

Red Sea Shipping -A Crucial Economic Lifeline

The waterways of the Red Sea serve as a vital artery for global trade, facilitating the movement of cargo crucial to the world economy. The attacks on cargo ships have delayed shipments and forced several cargo ships to take longer routes affecting the global economy.

However, recent events have heightened concerns about the possibility of further escalation in the region. The focal point of this tension involves the Houthi rebels, a group backed and armed by Iran, which currently has a warship positioned in the Red Sea.

The Houthis, an armed faction originating from a sub-sect of Yemen’s Shia Muslim minority known as Zaidis, derive their name from their founder, Hussein al Houthi. Formed in the 1990s, the group’s inception was rooted in opposition to what they perceived as the corruption of then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In 2003, President Saleh, supported by the Saudi Arabian military, attempted to eliminate the Houthi rebels. However, the rebels repelled both Saleh’s forces and the Saudi military.

Since 2014, the Houthi rebels have been involved in a civil war against Yemen’s government. The official government, led by the Presidential Leadership Council, is based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi fled there in 2015.

Despite this, most of Yemen’s population resides in areas under Houthi control, including Sanaa and the northern regions, as well as the Red Sea coastline.

The Houthi rebels exhibit a degree of autonomy, collecting taxes, and even engaging in currency issuance. The conflict in Yemen has had severe humanitarian consequences, with an estimated 377,000 deaths and four million people displaced by the start of 2022, according to the UN.

The Houthi rebels align themselves with Iran in the self-proclaimed “axis of resistance” against Israel, the United States, and the broader Western world, a stance shared with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

As the Red Sea remains a critical conduit for global trade, the current tensions pose a significant risk to the stability of this vital economic lifeline. The international community closely watches the situation, recognizing its potential impact on global commerce and regional stability.

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