“We are not interested in a war against the Houthis in Yemen, we are not interested in conflict of any kind. “We want their attacks to stop.” White House Security Council spokesman John Kirby is aware of the risk of escalating the conflict posed by the attack on targets launched this Friday by the United States and the United Kingdom militia allied with Iran is emerging in Yemen, and emphasized that Washington is not seeking direct confrontation. It was the first major retaliation since the Houthis began harassing merchant ships in the Red Sea, which carries about 15% of global maritime traffic, according to US estimates, in response to Israel's invasion of Gaza. Tensions, which had already been rising over the past two weeks, are now reaching extreme levels with the prospect of a response from Yemen's rebels. Kirby has made clear that United States President Joe Biden “will not hesitate to take further action if necessary” to protect shipping, as a naval coalition he has led since December has done. Tehran has asserted that the attacks are fueling “insecurity and instability” in the Middle East, although experts do not expect it to directly participate in the defense of its allies.
The White House maintains that the military action was carried out in accordance with US legislation and international law. “All [los emplazamientos atacados] “They were valid and legitimate military objectives,” added the spokesman aboard the Air Force One plane on which Biden was traveling to an event in Pennsylvania.
US and British forces attacked anti-aircraft surveillance systems, radars and arsenals of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles in various parts of Yemen under the control of the Houthi rebels. Both capitals have warned that they will repeat these measures if hostile incidents continue in these waters. On the same Friday, car manufacturers Tesla and Volvo announced the temporary suspension of part of their production in Europe due to a shortage of components caused by changes in maritime traffic in these waters.
In the end, three months after the Hamas attack on Israel, there was no expansion of the conflict in Gaza where it was most feared: in the Jewish state's neighboring countries such as Lebanon with the Hezbollah militia; or Syria, with the pro-Iranian militias. The Israeli army has been fighting daily battles on both fronts since October, but at the other end of the Red Sea, two of Israel's allies, Washington and London, swung into action and opened fire against an Iranian-backed group that controls 30% of Yemen's territory, including the capital. The Houthis have also occasionally fired drones and missiles against the Israeli city of Eilat at the northern tip of the Red Sea, housing tens of thousands of displaced people in hotels.
Yemeni demonstrators shouted slogans during a protest rally following attacks by US and British forces in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa this Friday. MOHAMMED HUWAIS (AFP)
Since the outbreak of the crisis in the region, there have been massive surprise attacks by Hamas (about 1,200 dead and more than 200 hostages), followed by an Israeli offensive in Gaza that killed almost 24,000 Palestinians (more than 1% of the Gaza Strip's population). ) one of the United States' major priorities was to prevent the conflict from spreading. Biden supports the Israeli election campaign economically, militarily and diplomatically, but aims to reduce the country's role in the Middle East and therefore does not want to get fully involved. Even less so in the middle of a campaign that begins this weekend with the Republican caucuses in Iowa.
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Tensions have been rising since the last day of 2023, when US helicopters sank three Houthi boats that tried to board a ship. On Tuesday, the Yemeni movement launched the largest of its 27 attacks on ships in the Red Sea. On the same day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned during his visit to Israel that the armed forces would react if they were “attacked or threatened”. “[Los hutíes] “They pose a threat not just to us or Israel, but to the entire international community because they attack maritime traffic in a sea that accounts for 15% of global trade every day,” he said. On Wednesday, with empty votes from Algeria, Russia, China and Mozambique, the Security Council passed Resolution 2722, which ordered the Houthis to immediately stop their harassment.
In theory, attacks in response to the Gaza invasion targeted commercial vessels supposedly connected to, coming from, or destined for Israeli ports, although this was not always the case. Major sea carriers are avoiding transit and opting to circumnavigate Africa via the Cape of New Hope, which has increased freight rates by 170%.
Faced with the problem, the United States in December forged a naval coalition with a dozen countries called the Guardian of Prosperity. Now the European Union is proposing the creation of a new dedicated marine security mission to patrol the same sea. It would be independent of Guardian of Prosperity, but they would share classified information, according to a confidential proposal sent by the EU External Action Service (EEAS) to member states on Thursday and to which EL PAÍS had access. Even if this happens, Spain will not send ships to patrol the Red Sea, Defense Minister Margarita Robles made clear this Friday.
The attack not only expands the reach of the conflict to other actors and geographical space. It also shows the divide between the United States and almost the entire Arab world in their support for Israel. Ayman Safadi, Jordan's foreign minister – a Washington ally that has had formal ties with Israel since 1994 – blamed the “growing tensions in the region” on “Israeli aggression in Gaza and the constant commission of war crimes against the Palestinian people and human rights violations.” “They are violating international law with complete impunity,” said state agency Petra.
The only Arab country publicly integrated into Guardian of Prosperity is Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, although maritime traffic is restricted for others, such as Egypt, with 1,500 kilometers of coastline in the Red Sea is important. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also not the two main countries in the coalition, which fought against the Houthis since 2015 and then gradually reduced their involvement. Riyadh, which has been negotiating a final ceasefire with the militia for months and restored diplomatic ties with Tehran almost a year ago, expressed “great concern” and called for “containment” to prevent escalation.
Support for the Palestinian cause on the Arab Street (including in the five countries that recognize Israel) is currently generating little interest in capitals to signal a U.S.-led mission, despite the economic impact of the naval blockade and the differences they maintain with Tehran.
In Washington, there have been voices in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party criticizing the attack. After Biden gave the green light, the White House notified Congress. However, critical lawmakers point out that Article I of the Constitution requires the government not only to report, but also to obtain express authorization from Parliament to carry out such military actions. Thursday's actions were “an unacceptable violation of the constitution.” Article I requires that Congress authorize military action,” emphasized lawmaker Pramila Jayapal.
In addition to military pressure, the USA added diplomatic and economic pressure this Friday. The Treasury Department has announced sanctions against two companies, one based in Hong Kong and the other in the United Arab Emirates, for shipping Iranian goods on behalf of the network of Iran-based Houthi financial intermediary Said al-Jamal. It is supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Al-Quds Brigade (IRGC-QF).
The Treasury Department's Office of Asset Control (OFAC) has identified four vessels involving these two companies. The sale of the transported goods was intended to finance the Houthi militias and their attacks on merchant ships.
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