Houthi escalations threaten years of 'joint progress' in Yemen, says Tim Lenderking

US Central Command confirms drone attack on its forces in the Red Sea

Houthi fighter with the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, seized by the Yemeni group in the Red Sea last month, in the background. EPA
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Houthi attacks in the Red Sea could derail Yemen's peace prospects, US Special Envoy Tim Lenderking told The National on Saturday after returning to Washington from meetings with leaders in the Gulf.

Mr Lenderking said he had met with partners to “continue intensive US diplomacy and regional co-ordination to end the war in Yemen”.

He said the talks also aimed to “safeguard maritime security in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in the midst of Iranian-enabled Houthi attacks on international shipping threatening almost two years of joint progress in Yemen peace efforts.”

The comments come after Central Command confirmed that US forces in the Red Sea had shot down a wave of 14 drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen early on Saturday.

“The UAS [unmanned aerial systems] were assessed to be one-way attack drones and were shot down with no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries. Regional Red Sea partners were alerted to the threat,” Centcom said in a statement.

It is the latest in a series of escalations by Iran-backed Houthis, who have attacked several ships over claims that they were linked to Israel, in support of Hamas. But some ships had no clear connection to Israel, with at least two carrying cargo to Italy and a destination in northern Europe.

Two more major shipping firms announced on Saturday that they were suspending passage through the Red Sea strait.

The decision by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and CMA CGM comes after a similar move on Friday by two of the world's largest shipping companies, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd.

MSC said it would stop using the Suez Canal following an attack on Friday on the MSC Palatium III.

A US State Department official told The National on Saturday that “all options are being discussed” in Washington on how to combat increased Houthi threats in the region.

“We are bringing together a group that we’ve already formed, and we’re trying to strengthen its work to, on a maritime basis, help protect shipping,” the official said.

They emphasised that the recent Houthi attacks “implicate the interests directly of well over a dozen countries, with crews from around the world, and ships registered and insured in different places”.

Houthis claim responsibility for rockets fired at two ships in Red Sea

Houthis claim responsibility for rockets fired at two ships in Red Sea

Iran has warned against the US building an international task force in the Red Sea, but the US official was adamant that Washington would take action because Tehran provides “essential weaponry and co-ordination support to the Houthis that have enabled these attacks on international commercial shipping”.

“This is unacceptable and must end,” they said, adding that

As the recent escalations threaten to derail recent progress on the Yemen peace process, the official emphasised that “resolving the conflict in Yemen remains a top priority for the United States”.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 6:56 PM