UK ‘considering air strikes’ on Houthi rebels following Red Sea attacks

Grant Shapps said the government will not hesitate to take 'direct action' to prevent further attacks

The USS Carter Hall and USS Bataan on Bab Al Mandeb in August this year. AP
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The British government is reportedly considering air strikes on Houthi rebels after the US said its navy sank three boats that had been pursuing a container ship in the Red Sea.

The government would not hesitate to take “direct action” to prevent further attacks, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said on Sunday amid reports the UK and US are preparing a joint statement to issue a warning to the Yemeni group.

Writing in the Telegraph newspaper, Mr Shapps said the UK “won’t hesitate to take further action to deter threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea”.

“The Houthis should be under no misunderstanding: We are committed to holding malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks,” he said.

The Sun and the Telegraph have reported the UK is weighing up the possibility of an armed response as the Iran-backed Houthis claim attacks on ships in the Red Sea that they say are either linked to Israel or heading to Israeli ports.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia has been launching rockets at cargo ships in the Red Sea from Yemen since November, which it claims is in response to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Mr Shapps said he spoke with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Saturday after a container ship was struck in the Red Sea.

“Between November and December there's been a 500 per cent increase in Houthi attacks on international shipping in and around the Red Sea,” Mr Shapps said on Sunday.

“This is unacceptable as it damages world trade by illegally blocking freedom of navigation at sea. These attacks must therefore stop,” he wrote on social media.

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said he had spoken to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, on Sunday.

“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks given their long-standing support to the Houthis,” he said in a post on X.

Mr Austin’s office described the attacks as “profoundly destabilising to the international rules-based order,” after his call with Mr Shapps on Saturday.

“These attacks violate freedom of navigation protected by international law, and threaten citizens of multiple countries,” it added.

“The ongoing impact of these attacks on global commerce is jeopardising the movement of critical food, fuel, and humanitarian assistance throughout the world.”

Mr Austin called for “collective action” against the attacks. “These attacks constitute a significant international problem that demands collective action.”

A US destroyer shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen on Saturday as it responded to a distress call from a container ship that was hit in a separate strike, the military said.

On Sunday, the US military claimed to have shot down two anti-ballistic missiles that were fired from Houthi-controlled areas towards two other ships. It claimed to have sunk three of the four Houthi small boats that attacked the container ship.

After the Houthis fired on the US helicopters, they “returned fire in self-defence, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area,” the US Central Command said.

Updated: January 01, 2024, 11:09 AM