“We are not interested in a war against the Houthis in Yemen, we are not interested in any type of conflict. “We want their attacks to stop.” Aware of the risk of extension of the conflict posed by the attack launched this Friday by the United States and the United Kingdom against targets in Yemen of militias allied to Iran, the spokesperson for the Security Council of the House White’s John Kirby insisted that Washington is not seeking direct confrontation. It is the first major act of retaliation since the Houthis began harassing merchant ships in the Red Sea, through which about 15 percent of global maritime traffic passes, according to U.S. estimates, in response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. The tension, which had already increased over the past two weeks, is now extreme with the promise of a response from the Yemeni rebels. Kirby made clear that U.S. President Joe Biden “will not hesitate to take further action if necessary” to protect shipping, as the naval coalition he has led since December has done. Tehran assured that the attacks fueled “insecurity and instability” in the Middle East, even if experts do not expect it to become directly involved in the defense of its allies.
The White House says the military action was carried out in accordance with U.S. law and international law. “All (the locations attacked) were valid and legitimate military objectives,” added the spokesperson on board the plane. Air Force Onein which Biden addressed a rally in Pennsylvania.
US and British forces have attacked anti-aircraft surveillance systems, radars and arsenals of drones, cruise and ballistic missiles in different areas of Yemen under the control of Houthi rebels. Both capitals have warned that they will repeat these acts if hostile incidents continue in these waters. This same Friday, car manufacturers Tesla and Volvo announced the temporary suspension of part of their production in Europe due to a shortage of components due to changes in maritime traffic in these waters.
In the end, three months after the Hamas attack on Israel, the expansion of the conflict in Gaza did not occur where it was most feared: the countries neighboring the Jewish state, such as Lebanon, with Hezbollah militias; or even Syria, with pro-Iranian militias. The Israeli army has maintained daily skirmishes on both fronts since October, but it was on the other side of the Red Sea that two of Israel’s allies, Washington and London, went into action, opening fire against a group backed by Iran which controls 30% of Yemen’s territory, including the capital. The Houthis have also occasionally launched drones and missiles against the Israeli city of Eilat, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, and with tens of thousands of people displaced into hotels.
Since the crisis erupted in the region, due to massive surprise attacks by Hamas (around 1,200 dead and over 200 hostages) followed by an Israeli offensive in Gaza that killed nearly 24,000 Palestinians (over 1 % of the population of the Gaza Strip). ), one of the main priorities of the United States was to avoid the extension of the conflict. Biden supports the Israeli campaign economically, militarily and diplomatically, but seeks to reduce the country’s role in the Middle East and therefore does not want to become fully involved. Even less so in the midst of an electoral battle that begins this weekend with the Iowa Republican caucuses.
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Tensions had been rising since the last day of 2023, when US helicopters sank three Houthi boats attempting to board a ship. On Tuesday, the Yemeni movement launched the largest of its 27 attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The same day, during his visit to Israel, American Secretary of State Antony Blinken had already warned that his armed forces would react if they were “attacked or threatened”. “(The Houthis) pose not only a threat to us or to Israel, but also to the entire international community, as they attack shipping in a sea that supplies 15% of global trade every day,” he said. he declared. On Wednesday, the Security Council approved, with blank votes from Algeria, Russia, China and Mozambique, resolution 2722, which ordered the Houthis to immediately cease their harassment.
In theory, attacks in response to the Gaza invasion targeted merchant ships believed to be bound to, or from, Israeli ports, although this was not always the case. Major shipping companies are avoiding the passage and choosing to circumnavigate Africa via the Cape of New Hope, which has increased freight rates by 170%.
Faced with the problem, the United States forged a naval coalition in December with a dozen countries called Guardian of Prosperity. Now the European Union is proposing to create a new special naval security mission to patrol that same sea. It would be independent from the Prosperity Guardians, but they would share secret information, according to a confidential proposal sent Thursday by the Service European Union for External Action (EEAS) to the Member States and to which EL PAÍS had access. Even if this comes to fruition, Spain will not send ships to patrol the Red Sea, Defense Minister Margarita Robles said on Friday.
The attack not only extends the scope of the conflict to other actors and geographic space. It also reveals the divide between the United States and almost the entire Arab world in their support for Israel. Ayman Safadi, the foreign minister of Jordan – a Washington ally that has maintained formal relations with Israel since 1994 – blamed the “increasing tension in the region” on “Israeli aggression in Gaza and the constant commission of crimes war against the Palestinian people and violations of human rights. of international law with complete impunity,” according to the state agency Petra.
The only Arab country publicly included in the Guardian of Prosperity is Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, despite the importance of maritime traffic for others, such as Egypt, with 1,500 kilometers of coastline in the Red Sea. . Neither are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two main coalition countries that have been fighting the Houthis since 2015 and then gradually reduced their involvement. Riyadh, which has been negotiating a definitive ceasefire with the militias for months and restored diplomatic relations with Tehran almost a year ago, expressed its “great concern” and called for “containment” to avoid a escalation.
Support for the Palestinian cause in the Arab street (including in the five countries that recognize Israel) creates little appetite in capitals to signify a U.S.-led mission at this time, despite the economic impact generated by the naval blockade and the differences. they maintain with Tehran.
In Washington, voices were raised within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to criticize the attack. Once Biden gave the green light, the White House informed Congress. But critical lawmakers point out that Article I of the Constitution requires the government not only to notify, but also to seek express authorization from Parliament to carry out this type of military action. Thursday’s actions constitute “an unacceptable violation of the Constitution.” Article I requires Congress to approve military actions,” noted lawmaker Pramila Jayapal.
To military pressure, the United States added diplomatic and economic pressure this Friday. The Treasury Department announced sanctions against two companies, one based in Hong Kong and the other in the United Arab Emirates, for shipping Iranian goods on behalf of the network of Iran-based Houthi financial facilitator Said al- Jamal. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Al Quds Brigade (IRGC-QF).
The Office of Treasury Asset Control (OFAC) has identified four vessels in which these two companies have interests. The sale of the goods they transported would finance the Houthi militias and their attacks on commercial ships.
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