The United States and its allies are weighing how to shut down attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia against commercial ships in the Red Sea, after American and British officials said on Tuesday that their warships had intercepted one of the largest barrages yet of drones and missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.
The Houthi attacks, in solidarity with Hamas in its war against Israel, have forced the world’s largest shipping companies to reroute vessels away from the Red Sea, creating delays and extra costs felt around the world through higher prices for oil and other imported goods.
The Biden administration and a number of international allies said last week that they would hold the Houthis responsible for the attacks, a warning that suggested the government may be considering retaliatory strikes on Houthi territory in Yemen, military officials said. Rather than back off, the Houthis appear to have stepped up their attacks.
“These attacks are unlawful, they’re reckless and they’re escalatory,” John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
“We’re going to do everything we have to do to protect shipping in the Red Sea,” he added, but he declined to elaborate.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking in a news conference on Wednesday in Manama, Bahrain, the latest stop on his Mideast tour, declined to say what actions might be coming. “What I can tell you is that, as we made clear, and many other countries made clear, there’ll be consequences for the Houthis’ actions,” he said.
The United Nations Security Council voted 11 to 0 on Wednesday to approve a resolution condemning the Houthi attacks and demanding that they cease. Four nations abstained, including Russia and China, which could have blocked the resolution because they hold veto power on the council.
Mr. Blinken said that the United States and other nations had repeatedly made clear to Iran that its support for the Houthis’ actions had to stop. A State Department readout of his meeting with Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, said the two had discussed the Houthi attacks and the U.S.-led multinational naval task that Bahrain has joined, which aims to protect maritime traffic in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden
So far, the United States has held back from hitting Houthi bases in Yemen, in large part because it does not want to undermine a fragile truce in Yemen’s civil war. Pentagon officials have drawn up plans for striking missile and drone bases in Yemen and facilities places where fast boats used to attack ships appear to be moored.
Britain’s defense secretary, Grant Shapps, said in an interview on British television that London was also considering taking military action if the Houthi attacks did not stop. “The simplest thing to say is ‘watch this space,’” he said.
On Tuesday, fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and four other warships intercepted “a complex attack” involving 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile, the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. No injuries or damage were reported, the command said.
Mr. Shapps said that the Diamond, a British Navy destroyer, had also responded to repel the Houthis’ “largest attack” since they began targeting ships in the Red Sea.
A Houthi military spokesman, Yahya Sarea, said in a statement on Wednesday that the group’s forces had used “a large number” of missiles and drones to target an American ship “that was offering support to the Zionist entity.” It was not immediately clear if he was describing the attack on Tuesday.
Mr. Sarea said the attack it described was in response to an assault by the U.S. Navy 10 days ago that sank three Houthi boats, killing their crew members. The Navy has said the boats fired on American helicopters coming to aid a Maersk cargo ship.
The Houthis “will continue to prevent Israeli ships or those headed to the ports of occupied Palestine from sailing in the Arabian and Red Seas until the aggression stops and the siege on our steadfast brothers in Gaza is lifted,” Mr. Sarea said.
The United States and a dozen allies issued an ultimatum to the Iran-backed Houthis last week to cease their near-daily attacks that have disrupted shipping in the crucial sea lanes that connect the Indian Ocean with the Suez Canal. The Houthis have promised to attack ships until Israel stops the war in the Gaza Strip, where it has been fighting for more than three months.
The rising tensions in the Red Sea have fueled concerns of a wider conflict in the region with militias and groups tied to Iran.
Reporting was contributed by Edward Wong from Manama, Bahrain, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.