U.S. warns Houthis to stop attacks in Red Sea

U.S. warns Houthis to stop attacks in Red Sea

The Biden administration has sent messages to the Houthi rebels in Yemen via several channels recently warning them to stop their attacks on ships in the Red Sea and against Israel, two U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: The Houthi attacks have created tensions in the region and are posing a growing threat to ships navigating one of the region’s main commercial shipping routes.

Driving the news: Since the Israel-Hamas war started, the Houthis have launched more than 70 drones and ballistic missiles towards Israel, which is more than 1,000 miles away from Yemen, the IDF said.

  • Almost all of the missiles and drones were intercepted by Israeli, U.S., French and Saudi air defense systems.
  • In recent weeks, the Houthis escalated their attacks and started targeting commercial ships in the vicinity of the Bab el-Mandeb strait in the Red Sea, which they claimed were owned by Israeli companies or were heading to Israel.
  • But most of the vessels that were attacked had a remote or no affiliation with Israel.
  • On Thursday, the Houthis conducted another attack on a ship owned by a Chinese company.

Behind the scenes: U.S. special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, who visited the Gulf in recent days, asked his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar to convey warning messages to the Houthis, the officials said.

  • Lenderking stressed the U.S. is highly concerned about Houthi attacks that threaten freedom of navigation in international waters.
  • The U.S. officials said several countries in the region gave similar messages to the Houthis over the last two weeks and made clear Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea or against Israel over their territory are “unacceptable.”
  • These warnings so far haven’t led the Houthis to de-escalate their attacks, U.S. officials admit.

State of play: As a result of the attacks, the arrival of commercial ships to the port of Eilat in southern Israel has almost completely stopped.

  • Ships heading to Israel from Asia now take a route that circles Africa, making the journey three weeks longer and more expensive.
  • Over the past two weeks, ships headed to other ports outside Israel also started using the longer route to reach Europe in order not to be targeted.

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