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Houthis promise to respond to U.S. and U.K. strike in the Red Sea

Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen
Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen

Updated January 12, 2024 at 12:42 PM ET

After two months of attacks by Houthis against international cargo ships and U.S. warships in the Red Sea, the United States and United Kingdom launched a retaliatory strike early Friday morning local time.

The two countries, along with other allies, hit 60 targets at 16 different locations, according to the commander of U.S. air operations in the Middle East, Air Force Lieutenant-General Alex Grynkewich.

Department of Defense's press secretary Major General Patrick Ryder told NPR's Morning Edition that the administration hopes this attack on Houthi targets will put an end to Houthi strikes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

"No one wants to see these strikes continue," Ryder told NPR's Leila Fadel.

The Houthis have ignored two previous ultimatums from the U.S. and other countries and continued their attacks in the region. More than 2,000 ships have had to divert their course to avoid the Red Sea, which is going to cause delays in international shipping for consumers. If the Houthi attacks continue, there is widespread concern that the conflict will expand further into the region and continue to disrupt the global economy.

The Houthis are a military group backed by Iranthat have been fighting Yemen's government for about two decades. The group have been ardent supporters of Hamas during the ongoing conflict in the Israel-Hamas war. Since November, the Houthis have launched27 drone and missile attacks on vessels that they claim are heading toward or leaving Israeli ports.

In response to the attacks, a Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdel Salam said there was absolutely no justification for the strikes.

"They committed foolishness with this treacherous aggression, and they were wrong if they thought that they would deter Yemen from supporting Palestine and Gaza," Salam said.

Ryder says that the attack against the Houthis should not be seen as an expansion of the Israel-Hamas war in this region. Instead, he said it should be seen as an effort to stop the disruption to the global economy.

"What you saw last night was a multinational effort to degrade and disrupt the Houthis ability to conduct these kinds of attacks going forward," he said.

Will the Houthis be deterred by the U.S attacks?

Iran, who has backed the Houthi military for years, said in a statement this attackwill not go unchallenged, suggesting that the Houthis will continue their strikes on ships in the region.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Morning Edition that the Houthis are unlikely to be deterred by the retaliatory strikes by the United States and the United Kingdom and may even broaden their attacks to include targets in Saudi Arabia or the Red Sea.

"I think that the problem that we have here is that the Houthis wanted the U.S. to attack," Feierstein said.

Feierstein added that the U.S. response also helps the Houthis gain more favor in the region.

"It raises the profile regionally. It makes them part of the A-team of Iran acts of resistance," Feierstein said.

U.S. intelligenceshows that Iran has been feeding the Houthis with intelligence about the shipping movements in the Red Sea and been providing weapons to the Houthis for these attacks.

"They are doing this with the tacit consent of Iran," Ryder said. "And so, we'd really call on Iran to direct the Houthis to cease this behavior."

How will this affect everyday Americans?

Both Democrats and Republicans welcomed the strikes on Houthi targets, but some cautioned against escalation into a broader war in the region.

"The United States does not seek an escalation of violence in the region, but we must deter attacks on our troops, and the freedom of navigation that is essential for global trade must be restored," Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said in a statement today.

Attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have large implications for international shipping, which directly affects Americans ability to buy overseas goods. About 10% of global trade and 12% of global oil goes through the Suez Canal.

Reports have shown that containers traveling daily through the Red Sea fell by 60% last month and global trade dropped 1.3% in December.

Marco Forgione, the director general at The Institute of Export and International Trade told Morning Edition that The U.S. and U.K.rather than curbing the Houthi attacks, he thinks this will only exacerbate them, leading to more shipping challenges in the area.

"This is hugely disruptive, inflationary, increases cost and also increases the possibility of their being scarcity of goods and products." Forgione said.

Forgione says that these problems will continue as attacks continue, which is all but guaranteed, considering Iran has said that the strikes will not go unchallenged.

The U.S. in particular will have a bigger problem because of the environmental constraints on the Panama Canal, where droughts have forced vessels to find new routes for cargo.

In the Suez Canal, ships will now have to change their route and go around the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa. This rerouting will add over a million dollars in additional costs and delay shipping by two weeks on goods, affecting manufacturers in the United States according to Forgione.

"A lot of what goes through Suez is actually input - things like oil, iron or gas - feed the industry," Forgione said. "That itself will cause problems as manufacturers find it difficult to source their components for their fuel or oil."

The audio portion of this piece was produced by Ben Abrams and Julie Depenbrock. It was edited by Jacob Conard.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mansee Khurana
[Copyright 2024 NPR]