UK Foreign Secretary warns Houthis of Red Sea 'action' as strike plans are drawn up

Tomahawk cruise missiles and aircraft carrier jets likely to be used in strikes against missile and radar sites

The USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. Its fighter jets could be used for an increasingly likely strike on Houthi radar and missile positions in Yemen. Getty Images
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UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said attacks by Yemen's Houthi would trigger action from countries dedicated to defending freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, a vital artery for global trade that has been disrupted by escalating attacks.

A dozen countries including the UK have demanded the Houthis cease attacks from their bases in Yemen. The group, which is allied with Hamas, has said the attacks are focused on ships bound for Israel.

“This is illegal,” Lord Cameron said on Thursday. “It's not to do with Gaza, it's not to do with Israel. This is about the freedom of navigation. This is about the ability of ships to carry their cargo.

“The world economy, every economy, will suffer if ships keep coming under attack in this illegal and unacceptable way. And these attacks need to stop or actions will be taken.”

Intelligence officials from the US and Britain are preparing detailed targeting information for a likely attack on Houthi missile and radar sites, military analysts have told The National.

The continued Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping that is threatening to choke global trade has also led to a US-led coalition to issue a final warning before military action.

The coalition, which includes Britain and Bahrain, stated that the Iranian-backed Houthis should cease or “bear the responsibility of the consequences”. The joint statement pointed out nearly 15 per cent of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea, including 8 per cent of global grain trade, 12 per cent of seaborne-traded oil and 8 per cent of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade.

“These aren't military ships, these are civilian ships who are delivering a standard part of our world trade and we've seen these attacks increased by about 500 per cent,” Lord Ahmed, the UK minister of state for the Middle East said Thursday.

“So we need to ensure that the assets that we've deployed as a deterrent to ensure the free access [to the Red Sea], which is for the benefit of everyone in the world, of our trade continuing in the way that it needs to without an economic premium on everyone around the world.”

The National reported that planners are now looking at a range of scenarios that include cruise missiles, air strikes and special forces raids.

With major shipping companies diverting their vessels away from the Red Sea, the US and its allies are now escalating their threats.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has also taken a strong position stating that the UK would “not hesitate to take necessary and proportionate action” against Houthi attacks.

The official spokesman for the British Prime Minister told The National that “I can't get into a lot of detail but planning is under way for a range of scenarios”.

In language suggesting a strike was probable, a senior US administration official said the Houthis should “not anticipate another warning”.

The last time the US attacked Yemen in 2016, it used a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit Houthi radar sites.

With three US warships now in the Red Sea, there is a formidable arsenal on hand to attack to stop the attacks.

“There has to be some mechanism to compel the Houthis to cease firing and that’s likely to be a punitive strike,” said Sidharth Kaushal of the Rusi think tank. “It's not a certainty but it's becoming more probable by the day.”

Since the first attacks, the British and Americans have been conducting high-level surveillance of Houthi radar sites, missile launchers and other sites.

Defence source said they have used satellites, drones, RAF P8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft and other assets to locate the targets, including a missile-manufacturing plant near the capital, Sanaa.

Capable of travelling at more than 900kph with a 450kg warhead, the Tomahawks can be used to destroy a range of ground targets.

A co-ordinated missile and air strike to pulverise the Houthi capabilities could also be carried out by US fighters flying from the Harry S Truman aircraft carrier based in the Gulf and RAF Typhoon fighter bombers from Cyprus.

Special forces could also be sent in to destroy Houthi fast boats and fishing vessels whose radar are likely being used in the attacks on shipping.

Updated: January 04, 2024, 6:51 PM