The US military conducted four operations from Wednesday afternoon until early Thursday local time, targeting Houthi drone control stations and shooting down several Iran-made drones.
The first operation destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile as it was preparing to launch. In the second operation, a missile and three Iran-made drones were shot down as they approached the USS Carney. A few hours later, another operation targeted a Houthi control station along with 10 'suicide drones' on the ground.
The US Central Command issued three statements in less than ten hours, stating that all the operations were carried out in self-defense because the drones posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region.
Earlier, a spokesman for the Houthis had claimed an attack on the US merchant ship “KOI” in the Gulf of Aden. CENTCOM confirmed this report, adding that USS Carney had shot down three Iranian drones and one anti-ship ballistic missile launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.
The uptick in hostilities at the Red Sea comes at a time when the the Biden administration is weighing its options for attacking Iran, in response to last weekend’s drone attack on a US base in Jordan, which killed three American soldiers and wounded dozens.
An Iranian proxy militant group in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah, responsible for the attack on US troops in Jordan, announced a halt to further operations against US targets, but the Houthi forces have vowed to continue attacks on US and British warships, as well as commercial vessels.
President Biden announced on Tuesday that he has made a decision regarding the response, but no strikes have been launched, and no official details have been shared.
Wednesday evening, NBC News reported that the retaliation against Iran-backed militants could last for “weeks.” Quoting US officials, the news channel claimed that the targets may include Iranian interests outside Iran.
The Biden administration is under growing pressure to retaliate. But ‘retaliation without escalation’ (Biden’s preferred option) seems hard to accomplish. Soon, it will be a week since the killing of American soldiers. At the Capitol, patience is running out.
“[Iran] should be hit, and it should be hit hard,” Democratic Senator John Fetterman told Iran International’s Arash Alaei Wednesday. “Any nation that’s underwriting terrorism across that region has to be punished. But that doesn’t mean it has to be attacked directly.”
Iranian officials say their allied armed groups are independent and often leave Tehran in the dark. But many in Washington blame Iran for most –if not all– attacks against the US and its allies. However, Houthis attacks on commercial vessels began in mid-November after Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei urged Muslim nations to blockade Israeli ports.
Iran and its proxies have launched more than 160 strikes against US forces in Syria and Iraq since October. And Houthis in Yemen have managed to disrupt shipping in the Red Sea with their regular attacks on commercial vessels and even US warships.
The Houthis say their attacks are in response to the Israeli onslaught in Gaza and should thus concern only the ships with some connection to Israel. In reality, however, several ships with no discernible ties to Israel have been targeted.
It’s unclear if President Biden’s avowed retaliatory ‘campaign’ –if and when it happens– would replace the existing operation against the Houthis. Either way, judging by their relentless attacks on commercial vessels in spite of US (and UK) airstrikes in the past few weeks, the Houthis seem to not really care.