UK, US expected to launch strikes against Houthis – media report

Britain is expected to join the United States in conducting overnight air strikes on military positions belonging to the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, the political editor for the UK Times newspaper has reported.

The US has not confirmed any intention to launch airstrikes and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street office did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

Mr Sunak briefed his cabinet of ministers on the imminent military intervention earlier, the Times report added.

British media also reported that other political figures, including the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, as well as the speaker of the House of Commons, had been briefed by the government.

Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi militants have stepped up attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea in protest against Israel’s war in Gaza. Various shipping lines have suspended operations, instead taking the longer journey around Africa.

The US military said the Houthis earlier today had staged their 27th attack on shipping since 19 November, firing an anti-ship ballistic missile into international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

Meanwhile, the leader of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened the US and Britain with even larger attacks in the Red Sea after their navies intercepted a major one.

US and British forces shot down 18 drones and three missiles launched by the Houthis late yesterday in what London described as their biggest attack so far in solidarity with Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

“Any American aggression will never go without a response,” rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said in speech broadcast live by the Houthis’ Al-Masirah television.

“The response to any American attack will not only be at the level of the operation that was recently carried out… but it will be greater than that.”

The rebels said yesterday’s attack was in retaliation for the US Navy’s killing of 10 Houthi fighters on 31 December as they attempted to board a merchant vessel passing through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution that demanded the Houthis “immediately cease” their attacks.

The Houthi campaign, which the rebels say only targets vessels linked to Israel or its allies, has caused major disruption with many shipping firms opting for a much longer route around the tip of Africa for security concerns.

Washington says more than 20 nations have joined the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect the vital sea lane which usually carries about 12% of maritime trade.

The Houthi leader said that “there is no problem for the Europeans, China and the whole world to pass through the Red Sea”.

“The only and exclusive target are ships linked to Israel.”

But he added that any government that joins the military action against the rebels’ naval forces would face reprisals.

“Whoever wants to get involved, attack our dear people and target the naval forces is actually risking their fleet and commercial ships,” Houthi warned.

“We hope that the rest of the Arab and Islamic countries will never get involved with the Americans, the Israelis and the British.”

It comes as Iran’s navy has seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman following “a court order” authorising the move, Iranian state media reported.

“The Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran seized an American oil tanker in the waters of the Gulf of Oman in accordance with a court order,” the official IRNA news agency said.

The tanker is carrying Iraqi crude oil and was destined for Turkey.

The action appears to be a retaliation for the seizure last year of the same vessel by the United States, Iranian media reported.

The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker St Nikolas was confiscated for carrying sanctioned Iranian oil in 2023, prompting Iran to warn the US that the action would “not go unanswered”.

Today, the same vessel was boarded by armed intruders as it sailed close to the Omani city of Sohar, according to the British maritime security firm, Ambrey.

Its tracking system was turned off as the vessel was redirected towards the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.

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