US and British forces carried out airstrikes on Houthi militants after the UN Security Council demanded a stop to Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea. Houthis have launched over a dozen attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea since November 2023. The US and its allies previously condemned Houthi attacks on merchant vessels and vowed to “hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks” in early January.
President Biden called the strikes a:
…direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea—including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history. . .Crews from more than 20 countries have been threatened or taken hostage in acts of piracy. More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea—which can cause weeks of delays in product shipping times. And on January 9, Houthis launched their largest attack to date—directly targeting American ships.
A press release by the United Kingdom stated the joint strikes were conducted:
…in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence, consistent with the UN Charter, against a number of targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. These precision strikes were intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of international mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways.
An unnamed senior official from the Biden administration, remarked in a press call “this is an issue about global commerce, the freedom of navigation, and threats to commercial vessels and international waterways.” The unnamed official also said “Iran is a primary, if not the primary, enabler or supporter, sponsor of the Houthis and that Iran has been involved operationally in the conduct of these attacks” and that “we do hold Iran responsible for the role that they have played with the Houthis and with the other groups in the region that have conducted attacks against U.S. forces, and have made them aware of that.”
Houthi leaders have claimed the attacks were a response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, which South Africa recently asserted to the ICJ was genocide. According to a Houthi-run news agency, SABA, Houthi leader Mahdi Al-Mashat said of the strikes:
We say to our brothers in Palestine and our people in Gaza that our blood is not more precious than your blood, and we are clear of conscience that we are actually participating with you, that Palestine is not being bombed alone, and we affirm that Palestine after today will not be in the battle alone.