An American warship and several commercial vessels came under attack on Sunday in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said, potentially marking a major escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Middle East linked to the Israel-Gaza war.
“We’re aware of reports regarding attacks on the USS Carney and commercial vessels in the Red Sea and will provide information as it becomes available,” the Pentagon said.
In a statement, US Central Command confirmed there were four attacks by the Houthis against three commercial vessels connected to 14 nations.
The American destroyer USS Carney responded to the distress calls from the ships and shot down three drones that were heading for the warship during the day, said Centcom.
The US military said they believed that these attacks were "fully enabled" by Iran and represented a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security.
"The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full co-ordination with its international allies and partners," said the statement on X, formerly Twitter.
Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran and support Hamas against Israel, claimed they had hit two Israeli ships in Bab Al Mandeb, the strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, on Sunday. The strait is a key trade route for global shipping and energy supplies.
The Houthis said they attacked the Unity Explorer and Number Nine ships, both of which the group said were Israeli. One of the attacks was a missile attack, while the other one was carried out by a drone, they said.
The operation came after the two ships rejected warning messages, the Houthis said on X.
The Houthis have declared war against Israeli shipping in the Red Sea.
The Yemeni rebel group said its forces will "continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red and Arab Seas until the Israeli aggression against our brothers in the Gaza Strip".
The two ships that Yemen's Houthi movement claimed to have attacked in the Red Sea had no connection to the state of Israel, Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.
The Houthis statement did not mention the USS Carney, and the Pentagon did not identify where it believed the attack came from.
The USS Carney had shot down a drone in an attempted attack against it on Wednesday, the Pentagon said. It downed an Iranian-made KAS-04 drone that had been launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen and was heading towards the warship, the Pentagon said.
The British military also earlier said there had been a suspected drone attack and explosions in the Red Sea, without elaborating.
A US official said the attack began at about 10am in Sanaa, Yemen, and had been going on for as much as five hours.
Global shipping has increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Gaza war threatens to become a wider regional conflict, and attacks continued even as a truce halted fighting and Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinians detained by Israel.
The US boosted its military presence in the Red Sea, through which about 10 per cent of global trade passes, after the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war in October.
Since then, the USS Carney has shot down missiles launched from Yemen towards Israel.
The USS Bataan, which can carry troops and helicopters, the USS Carter Hall, and the USS Thomas Hudner are also in the Red Sea.
Last week, the Houthis said that any US measures against them would be considered an act of war.
"Any American escalation will not dissuade us from our principled position on the Palestinian issue, and that any measure that harms the interests of our people will be tantamount to a declaration of war and will be dealt with on this basis," said Mahdi Al Mashat, the head of the Supreme Political Council of the Houthi group.
Earlier in November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship also linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen.
The group shared dramatic footage of militants landing on the Galaxy Leader ship and taking the crew hostage.
The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida.
Missiles also landed near another US warship last week after it assisted a vessel linked to Israel that had briefly been seized by gunmen.
However, the Houthis have not claimed any direct attacks against US vessels since October 7.
In 2016, the US launched Tomahawk cruise missiles that destroyed three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory to retaliate for missiles being fired at US Navy ships, including the USS Mason, at the time.