A series of encounters between US and UK forces against Yemen’s Houthi rebels has heightened maritime tensions in the Red Sea, escalating the battle in the crucial waterway. The Houthi rebellion, which is backed by Iran, has been targeting ships since November, saying they are affiliated with Israel and expressing support with Gaza. Disruptions have occurred in a marine corridor that accounts for around 12% of world trade.
On January 12, US and UK military forces launched a coordinated strike on 60 Houthi targets, including missile and radar installations spread over 16 different locations within the rebel-held territory. According to Houthi officials, the assault, which used more than 150 precision-guided munitions, killed five people and injured six more.
In a quick response, the Houthis launched a missile attack that failed to hit any targets. They later said that following the nocturnal offensive, American and British interests would be deemed legitimate targets.
The following day, the United States launched an attack on the Al-Dailami airbase in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. The US military portrayed this as an extension of the previous day’s activities. Despite increasing military pressure, the Houthis maintained their posture of conducting attacks on ships transiting the Red Sea.
On January 14, US Marines successfully intercepted a cruise missile fired at the USS Laboon destroyer by Houthi forces. On January 15, a Houthi missile struck the US-owned Gibraltar Eagle cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, south of the Red Sea. The attack caused a fire, but there were no injuries.
The United States interdicted four anti-ship ballistic missiles on January 16th, which were reportedly ready to launch from Yemen under Houthi control. That same day, a missile struck a Greek-owned, Malta-flagged bulk carrier in the Red Sea, causing minor damage but no injuries were recorded.
Further escalation happened on the seventeenth, when a Houthi drone struck the US-owned bulk carrier Genco Picardy, causing damage but no injuries, according to US Central Command. The US soldiers reacted by destroying 14 missiles that they claimed were poised to fire.
On January 18, the Houthis claimed that they had made “direct hits” on a US cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, a claim that US forces refuted, reporting that the missiles had missed their target. The United States also revealed that it had targeted two anti-ship missiles set to launch into the Red Sea.