January 11, 2024

US, UK repel ‘complex’ Houthi drone and missile attack in Red Sea

By Jon Gambrell
January 11, 2024 — 7.51am
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Dubai: Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles targeting shipping in the Red Sea, forcing the United States and British navies to shoot down the projectiles in a major naval engagement, authorities said on Wednesday (US time).

Later, the UN Security Council demanded an immediate halt to attacks by the Houthis, and implicitly condemned Iran.

The Houthi rebels say their assaults are aimed at stopping Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A ship transits the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea in Suez, Egypt. Credit: Getty

However, their targets increasingly have little — or no — connection to Israel and imperil a crucial trade route linking Asia and the Middle East with Europe. That raises the risk of a US retaliatory strike on Yemen that could upend an uneasy cease-fire that has held in the Arab world’s poorest country.


The assault happened off the Yemeni port cities of Hodeida and Mokha, according to the private intelligence firm Ambrey. In the Hodeida attack, Ambrey said ships described over radio seeing missiles and drones, with US-allied warships in the area urging “vessels to proceed at maximum speed”.

Off Mokha, ships saw missiles fired, a drone in the air and small vessels trailing them, Ambrey said early Wednesday. The British military’s United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations also acknowledged the attack off Hodeida.

The US military’s Central Command said the “complex attack” launched by the Houthis included bomb-carrying drones, anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile. No damage was immediately reported.

It said 18 drones, two cruise missiles and the anti-ship missile were downed by F-18s from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as by American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers the USS Gravely, the USS Laboon and the USS Mason, as well as the United Kingdom’s HMS Diamond.


“This is the 26th Houthi attack on commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea since November 19,” Central Command said. “There were no injuries or damage reported.”

“Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity,” the UKTMO added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the gravity of the Houthi threat to global commerce, and renewed US warnings of a response.

An image from the bridge of HMS Diamond, as Sea Viper missiles are fired in the Red Sea.Credit: MoD

“I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that that might happen,” Blinken said in Bahrain, the latest stop in a Mideast tour seeking to calm the region. “All I can tell you again, we’ve made clear – we’ve been clear with more than 20 other countries – that if this continues, as it did yesterday, there will be consequences. And I’m going to leave it at that.”

British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps described the assault as “the largest attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea to date,” saying the Diamond used Sea Viper missiles and guns to shoot down multiple drones.

“The UK alongside allies have previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Houthis will bear the consequences,” Shapps said in a statement. “We will take the action needed to protect innocent lives and the global economy.”

The Houthis, a Shiite group that has held Yemen’s capital of Sanaa since 2014, later claimed responsibility for the attack in a televised statement by rebel spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree. Saree claimed the attack “targeted an American ship that was providing support to the Zionist entity,” without offering any further information. He also described it as an “initial response” to American troops sinking Houthi vessels and killing 10 rebel fighters last week.

The Houthis will “continue to prevent Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine from navigating in the Red Sea until the aggression stops and the siege on our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip ends,” Saree said.

The Houthis say their attacks aim to end the pounding Israeli air-and-ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. However, the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.


The Red Sea links the Mideast and Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal, and its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The strait is only 29 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Nearly 10 per cent of all oil traded at sea passes through it and an estimated $US1 trillion ($1.49 trillion) in goods pass through the strait annually.

The UN Security Council demanded an immediate halt to attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on ships in the Red Sea in a resolution adopted on Thursday (AEDT) that implicitly condemned their main weapons supplier — Iran.

The resolution, sponsored by the United States and Japan, was approved by a vote of 11-0 with four abstentions – Russia, China, Algeria and Mozambique.

It condemns “in the strongest terms” at least two dozen attacks carried out by the Houthis on merchant and commercial vessels which are impeding global commerce “and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security.” And it demands “that the Houthis immediately cease all such attacks.”

The Iranian-backed Houthis, who have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognised government since 2014, have said they launched the attacks with the aim of ending Israel’s devastating air-and-ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

A US-led coalition of nations has been patrolling the Red Sea to try and prevent the attacks. There’s been no broad retaliatory strike yet, despite warnings from the US. However, Wednesday’s attack appeared to be testing what response, if any, would come from Washington.

Meanwhile, a separate, tentative cease-fire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months, despite the long civil war in Yemen. This has raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in Yemen. It also may draw in Iran, which has so far largely avoided directly entering the wider Israel-Hamas war, further into the conflict.


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