The United States and Britain launched strikes against 36 Houthi targets in Yemen, in the second day of major U.S. operations against Iran-linked groups following a deadly attack on American troops last weekend.
The strikes late on Saturday hit buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems, launchers and other capabilities the Houthis have used to attack Red Sea shipping, the Pentagon said, adding it targeted 13 locations across the country.
They are the latest blows in a conflict that has spread into the Middle East since Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas stormed Israel from the Gaza Strip, igniting a war that has drawn in an array of armed groups backed by Tehran.
Residents said the strikes shook buildings in Houthi-controlled Sanaa. The group’s military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said the U.S. strikes “will not pass without a response and consequences.” The group did not announce any casualties. Houthi-run media called these “the most violent” strikes yet.
The Yemen strikes are running parallel to an unfolding U.S. campaign of retaliation over the killing of three American soldiers in a drone strike by Iran-backed militants on an outpost in Jordan a week ago.
On Friday, the U.S. carried out the first wave of that retaliation, striking in Iraq and Syria against more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40.
The violence has added to concerns of the potential for further escalation. Iran has so far avoided any direct role in the conflict, even as groups it backs have entered the fray from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
Mahjoob Zweiri, Director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, did not expect a change in Iran’s approach even after the latest U.S. strikes.
“They keep the enemy behind the borders, far away. They are not interested in any direct military confrontation which might lead to attacks on their cities or their homeland. They will maintain that status quo,” he told Reuters.
Iran’s foreign ministry said the latest attacks on Yemen were “a flagrant violation of international law by the United States and Britain”, warning the continuation of such attacks was a “worrying threat to international peace and security”.
The Pentagon has said it does not want war with Iran and does not believe Tehran wants war either. U.S. Republicans have been putting pressure on President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to deal a blow to Iran directly.
Hothis say won’t be deterred
The Houthis, who control swathes of Yemen, say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza. But the U.S. and its allies characterize them as indiscriminate and a menace to global trade.
Major shipping lines have largely abandoned Red Sea shipping lanes for longer routes around Africa. This has increased costs, feeding worries about global inflation while denying Egypt crucial foreign revenue from use of the Suez Canal.
Biden’s emerging strategy on Yemen aims to weaken the Houthi militants but stops short of trying to defeat the group or directly attack Iran – the Houthis’ main sponsor, experts say.
The strategy blends limited military strikes and sanctions, and appears aimed at punishing the Houthis while attempting to limit the risk of a broad Middle East conflict.
The U.S. has carried out more than a dozen strikes against Houthi targets in the past several weeks.
Sarea, the Houthi spokesperson, suggested in a statement on social media that the group would press on.
“These attacks will not deter us from our ethical, religious and humanitarian stance in support of the resilient Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” Sarea said.
Just hours before the latest major wave of strikes from the sea and air, the U.S. military’s Central Command issued statements detailing other, more limited strikes in the past day that included hitting six cruise missiles the Houthis were preparing to launch against ships in the Red Sea.
Around 4 am in Yemen (0100 GMT) on Sunday, the U.S. military also struck a Houthi anti-ship cruise missile poised to launch.
“This is not an escalation,” said British Defence Minister Grant Shapps. “We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities.”
The United States said Sunday’s strikes had support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand. U.S. Central Command said that beyond missile capabilities, the strikes targeted drone storage and operations sites, radars and helicopters.
The Houthi military said the United States and Britain carried out a total of 48 airstrikes on Yemen, with 13 of them in the capital Sanaa and Sanaa Governorate. Another 11 strikes were on Taiz Governorate and nine were on Hodeidah Governorate.
Oman Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al-Busaidi said that “Oman has grave concerns over the continuous escalation in the region.”
In a statement, he criticized the effectiveness of retaliatory U.S. attacks in Iraq and Syria, noting that “such actions compromise the region’s safety, stability, and efforts to tackle challenges like violence and extremism.”