UK, US To Step Up Fight Against Houthis

The proposals could mark an escalation in the allied effort to end the chaos in the Red Sea, which handled about 12% of global trade before the Houthis began targeting commercial ships…reports Asian Lite News

The US and the UK are exploring ways to step up their campaign against Houthi militants in Yemen without provoking a broader war, with a focus on targeting Iranian resupplies and launching more aggressive pre-emptive strikes, people familiar with the matter said.

The proposals could mark an escalation in the allied effort to end the chaos in the Red Sea, which handled about 12% of global trade before the Houthis began targeting commercial ships in response to Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The Houthi attacks has led to higher insurance costs and provoked fears of fresh inflationary pressure as ships take a longer and costlier route around the southern tip of Africa.

The risk is that more aggressive action will put the US in direct conflict with Iran and provoke the sort of regional conflagration that President Joe Biden says he wants to avoid.

But the considerations stem from a recognition that a series of US and UK strikes against the Houthis so far hasn’t deterred the group or degraded its ability to target commercial shipping. In fact, the Houthis have vowed to step up their attacks in the week since the allies began targeting them.

The people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations, said the US and UK are examining ways to better disrupt Iranian efforts to resupply the Houthis at sea, especially given that it will be harder to sever land routes. A British official echoed that argument, saying officials are weighing various types of military operations to disrupt Iranian weapons flows to the Houthis.

Advocates for more aggressive action also argue that the time is ripe because of what they see as an emerging Iranian weakness. People familiar with the US stance say that the leadership in Iran may have overextended itself with its support for the Houthis along with launching attacks in Pakistan and Iraq, and may not respond to further escalation.

That’s coupled with a growing fear that the Red Sea turmoil may go on longer than initially expected. Since mid-November, at least 16 ships have suffered direct strikes by Houthi drones or missiles, according to data from intelligence firm Ambrey Analytics.

There’s already some evidence that the US and allies have taken a more aggressive approach. Last week, US forces boarded a dhow in the Arabian Sea and seized Iranian-made missile components bound for the Houthis, the Pentagon said. Two Navy SEALS were lost in that operation.

On Friday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US had struck three anti-ship cruise missiles that were “sitting on the rails ready to go.” That contrasts with previous strikes against launchers that were believed to pose an immediate threat.

“The Houthis need to stop these attacks – they can make that choice,” Kirby said. “We have choices to make, too. And we have options available to us as well. We’ll continue to explore those options.”

The allies have also had discussions about whether current rules of engagement allow for the sort of aggressive strikes that officials envision. On Thursday, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the commander of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, already has the authority he needs to take defensive action, and another US official said no policy changes are needed.

The people familiar with the US stance said administration officials believe Iran has overplayed its hand and provoked unease in Arab capitals, where leaders fear they could also be targets. Countries in the Middle East and beyond are increasingly concerned about Iran’s actions and are banding together at the United Nations and elsewhere to push back against Tehran and its proxies, a senior State Department official said.

In recent days, Iran has launched missile attacks on sites in Iraq and Pakistan, angering those countries’ governments and increasing the risks of broader regional conflict.

Top Iraqi officials issued rare public criticisms of Iran after Tehran attacked what it said was an Israeli spy base in Iraq with missiles in revenge for the assassination of one of its commanders in Syria.

Addressing the US attacks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said “we are not looking for regional conflict.” But he said “we reserve the right to take further action” because the Houthis can’t be permitted to hijack world trade.

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