Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 21 February 2024
Follow

Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

  • Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Despite a month of US-led airstrikes, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and apparently downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.
The continued assaults by the Houthis on shipping through the crucial Red Sea corridor — the Bab el-Mandeb Strait — against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip underscore the challenges in trying to stop the guerrilla-style attacks they have used to hold onto Yemen’s capital and much of the war-ravaged country’s north since 2014.
The campaign has boosted the rebels’ standing in the Arab world, despite their human rights abuses in a yearslong stalemated war with several of America’s allies in the region. Analysts warn that the longer the Houthis’ attacks go on, the greater the risk that disruptions to international shipping will begin to weigh on the global economy.
On Monday, both the Houthis and Western officials acknowledged one of the most serious attacks on shipping launched by the rebels. The Houthis targeted the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar with two anti-ship ballistic missiles, and one struck the vessel, the US military’s Central Command said.
The Rubymar, which reported problems with its propulsion in November, apparently became inoperable, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed on Monday night that the Rubymar sank. However, satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Rubymar still afloat at 2 p.m. local time Tuesday just north of the Bab el-Mandeb. A large oil slick trailed the vessel.
The Rubymar attack marked one of a few direct, serious hits by the Houthi rebels on shipping. In late January, another direct hit set a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker ablaze for hours.
Meanwhile, the Houthis early Tuesday released footage of what they described as a surface-to-air missile bringing down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone off the coast of Hodeida, a Yemeni port city they hold on the Red Sea. The footage included a video of men dragging pieces of debris from the water onto a beach.
Images of the debris, which included writing in English and what seemed to be electrical equipment, appeared to correspond to known pieces of the Reaper, usually used in attack missions and surveillance flights. A US defense official acknowledged Tuesday an MQ-9 “crashed off the coast of Yemen,” without elaborating.
In November, the Pentagon acknowledged the loss of an MQ-9, also shot down by the rebels over the Red Sea.
Since the Houthis seized the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa in 2014, the US military has lost at least four drones to shootdowns by the rebels — in 2017, 2019 and this year.
Meanwhile, the Houthis claimed an attack on the Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Aden, Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina.
The rebels separately claimed an attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Navis Fortuna, a ship that had been broadcasting its destination as Italy with an “all Chinese” crew to avoid being targeted. Private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel sustained minor damage in a drone attack.
The US shot down 10 bomb-carrying Houthi drones, as well as a cruise missile heading toward the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon over the last day, Central Command said Tuesday. The US military also conducted strikes targeting a Houthi surface-to-air missile launcher and a drone prior to its launch.
The Houthis acknowledged the drone attacks and claimed other assaults not immediately acknowledged by the West.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.
The European Union has launched its own campaign to protect shipping, with member France saying on Tuesday that it shot down two Houthi drones overnight in the Red Sea.
So far, no US sailor or pilot has been wounded by the Houthis since America launched its airstrikes targeting the rebels in January. However, the US continues to lose drones worth tens of millions of dollars and fire million-dollar cruise missiles to counter the Houthis, who are using far cheaper weapons that experts believe largely have been supplied by Iran.
Based on US military statements, American and allied forces have destroyed at least 73 missiles of different types before they were launched, as well as 17 drones, 13 bomb-laden drone boats and one underwater explosive drone over their monthlong campaign, according to an AP tally. Those figures don’t include the initial Jan. 11 joint US-UK strikes that began the campaign. The American military also has shot down dozens of missiles and drones already airborne since November.
The Houthis haven’t offered much information regarding their losses, though they’ve acknowledged at least 22 of their fighters have been killed in the American-led strikes. Insurgent forces including the Houthis and allied tribes in Yemen number around 20,000 fighters, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. They can operate in small units away from military bases, making targeting them more difficult.
The Houthis may view the costs as balanced by their sudden fame within an Arab world enraged by the killing of women and civilians by Israel in Gaza.
In the past, others — including the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — have used the Palestinians’ plight to justify their “actions and garner support,” wrote Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
“It legitimizes the Houthis’ actions in the eyes of those who sympathize with the Palestinian cause, distracts from the more immediate issues associated with the Yemen conflict and the failures of Houthi governance, and potentially broadens the base of their support beyond Yemen’s borders,” Alasrar added.
If the Houthi attacks continue, it could force the US to intensify and widen its counterattacks across an already volatile Mideast.
“Without a ceasefire in Gaza, the Houthis could be tempted to further escalate against US interests in the Red Sea and in the region,” wrote Eleonora Ardemagni, a fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.
For Washington, “deterrence options” are getting narrower, she added.

 


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”


Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

Updated 19 May 2024
Follow

Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

  • Rescue workers continuing to search for missing people under the rubble
  • Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s civil defense agency said Sunday that an Israeli air strike targeting a house at a refugee camp in the center of the Palestinian territory killed at least 31 people, updating an earlier toll.

“The civil defense crew were able to recover 31 martyrs and 20 wounded from a house belonging to the Hassan family, which was targeted by the Israeli occupation forces in the Nuseirat camp,” Gaza civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told journalists.

He said rescue workers were continuing to search for missing people under the rubble.

Earlier on Sunday the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital had said it had received the bodies of 20 people killed in the strike which witnesses said occurred around 3:00 am local time.

The Israeli army when contacted by AFP asked for specific coordinates of the strike.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that the wounded included several children.

Fierce battles and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a ground operation on the southern city of Rafah in early May.

Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have also clashed in north Gaza’s Jabalia camp for days now.

Witnesses said several other houses were targeted in air strikes during the night across Gaza, and that strikes and artillery shelling also hit parts of Rafah during the night.

The Israeli military said two more soldiers were killed in Gaza the previous day.

The military said 282 soldiers have been killed so far in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.