Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Houthi Rebels Vow ‘All Force’ Response to U.S. Airstrikes in Yemen

HomeWARHouthi Rebels Vow ‘All Force’ Response to U.S. Airstrikes in Yemen

The civil war in Yemen has entered a dangerous new phase after the US and its allies launched airstrikes against Houthi rebel targets. The attacks come in response to Houthi missile and drone strikes against commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea, which is one of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes.

The escalation began earlier this week when the Iran-backed Houthis increased attacks against merchant ships near the port city of Hodeidah. On Tuesday, the rebels launched their largest salvo yet, firing eight unmanned drones and three ballistic missiles. While no ships appeared to suffer direct hits, the US Navy said remnants of one missile landed close to an American destroyer.

The Houthis say the attacks are in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes against Palestinians in Gaza. They have threatened further strikes against vessels linked to Israel. But US officials dismissed this justification, noting most targeted ships have no ties to Israel. They view the assaults as a dangerous bid by the Houthis to disrupt global trade.

On Thursday evening, the US military struck back with a series of airstrikes across rebel-held territory. Warplanes hit three locations, including a drone facility in the capital Sanaa. The UK also contributed fighter jets to the bombing runs. US Central Command said the sites were critical to the Houthis’ maritime campaign.

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In a statement, President Biden framed the strikes as a warning to deter future attacks. He said the US would not hesitate to take further action to defend free commerce in the Red Sea. The UK also defended the joint mission as an appropriate, legal response under international law.

Houthi officials angrily denounced the US-led strikes. A rebel spokesperson told Newsweek the attacks have “no justification” and Yemen would respond with “all force and determination.” He warned of potential escalation that could spiral out of control.

Analysts say the Houthis are likely to continue missile and drone strikes, at least in the short-term. This risks sparking a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks and counter-attacks between the warring sides.

The Exhausting War That Sparked the Latest Crisis

The confrontation represents the latest violent twist in Yemen’s grueling civil war. The conflict erupted in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa and toppled the internationally-recognized government.

Saudi Arabia, concerned over rising Iranian influence, formed a coalition in 2015 to oust the rebels. The US, UK and France have provided varying levels of support, including arms sales and intelligence assistance.

After years of grinding stalemate, the UN brokered a temporary ceasefire last April. The truce led to a dramatic reduction in ground fighting and coalition airstrikes. It also allowed fuel shipments back into Hodeidah port, offering some economic relief.

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However, setbacks during ceasefire talks triggered the Houthis’ retaliation at sea. The rebels are pressing to lift restrictions on Hodeidah and Sanaa airport. They also demanded wages for civil servants in Houthi-held areas.

But the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia have resisted these demands. They want a comprehensive deal before agreeing confidence-building measures.

With negotiations deadlocked, exasperated Houthi leaders encouraged attacks on coalition and international shipping. However, the resulting US military response risks pushing a compromise further out of reach.

Global Dependence on Free Red Sea Commerce

The Red Sea is a critical artery for global trade, rendering this flare-up particularly worrying. Every year, thousands of cargo ships traverse the waters between the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa.

The narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a vital choke point at the sea’s southern end. Approximately 12% of world trade passes through this narrow passage heading to and from the Suez Canal. Any closure or disruption here could have huge economic ripple effects.

Tankers hauling over 5 million barrels of oil per day also rely on safe passage through the Red Sea. Much of this crude originates in Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the UAE. Disruption could send fuel prices rising worldwide.

For now, commercial shippers are being urged to steer clear of Yemen’s western Red Sea coast. But all vessels remain vulnerable to hit-and-run drone or missile ambushes.

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Calls for Restraint and Diplomacy

As tensions escalate, international leaders are appealing for calm and dialogue. The UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Houthi attacks and demanding they cease. Neighboring Oman, which maintains ties with the Houthis, also criticized the strikes as unjustified.

Meanwhile, aid groups warn further fighting will exacerbate hunger, disease and displacement. The UN estimates over 4 million Yemenis have fled their homes since 2014. And two-thirds of the population relies on food aid to survive.

Following the airstrikes, analysts say all parties should lower tensions and pursue a negotiated settlement. The Houthis’ grievances over Hodeidah and Sanaa airport should be addressed. And the Saudi-led coalition must ease its air and sea blockade that restricts aid and fuel deliveries.

Diplomats still hope February’s ceasefire can be salvaged through compromise. A Houthi commitment to halt all attacks could set the stage for a partial lifting of restrictions. Such reciprocal gestures are needed to build badly lacking trust after years of bloodshed.

With millions of lives in the balance, Yemen’s civil war has raged for far too long already. This recent watershed moment should serve as a wake-up call for renewed international engagement. The alternative risks engulfing the region in uncontrolled wider conflict.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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