Yemen’s Houthis target Israel-linked ships in Red Sea. Here’s what to know

The Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen has launched a series of new attacks against Israel-linked vessels in the Red Sea that drew a response from a United States warship deployed in one of the world’s busiest maritime routes.

The powerful group, which controls Yemeni capital Sanaa and commands an expanding military, has promised more attacks will be launched if Israel and the US refuse to put a stop to the war on Gaza, which has killed more than 15,500 Palestinians since October 7.

Let’s take a look at the latest attacks, why the Bab al-Mandeb Strait where they took place is important, and how the situation could unfold as the Israeli war machine shows no signs of stopping.

What’s the latest?

The US military said late on Sunday that three commercial vessels came under attack in the strait – a narrow sea passage that separates the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa. The Houthis claimed strikes on only two ships.

Several projectiles are believed to have been fired at the Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier Unity Explorer, with at least one hitting its target and inflicting damage.

The USS Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, said it shot down a drone that appeared to be headed its way, and also downed two more drones while responding to distress calls by the ships.

The other two commercial ships, the Panamanian-flagged bulk carriers Number 9 and Sophie II, were also struck by missiles. US Central Command did not report any casualties.

It said Washington has “every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran”.

Tehran has not commented officially on the latest attack, but it previously maintained that while it supports a “resistance axis” consisting of groups in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, its members operate autonomously. Iran-backed Hezbollah group has been engaged in a deadly border fight with Israeli forces in solidarity with Palestinians. Dozens of Hezbollah fighters have been killed, including journalists, in Israeli shelling, raising fears of a regional escalation.

Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree accepted responsibility for two of the attacks but did not mention claims of its drones being engaged by a US warship.“The Yemeni armed forces renew their warning to all Israeli ships or those associated with Israelis that they will become a legitimate target” if Israel does not stop its attacks on the Gaza Strip, he said.

Why is Bab al-Mandeb important?

The Bab al-Mandeb is a 25km (15 miles) strait that connects the Gulf of Aden south of Yemen to the Red Sea, which stretches to southern Israel and is a significant shipping lane.

The Houthis are effectively setting their sights on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, where goods and oil are transported in large quantities.

By focusing on Bab al-Mandeb – and launching earlier attacks in the Red Sea and southern Israel – the Houthis appear to be trying to impose hefty financial costs on Israel in addition to undermining its security if it chooses to prolong the war.

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