Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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Attacks on ships and US drones show Yemen’s Houthis can still fight despite US-led airstrikes

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen September 1, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Despite a month of US-led airstrikes, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and apparently downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.
The continued assaults by the Houthis on shipping through the crucial Red Sea corridor — the Bab el-Mandeb Strait — against the backdrop of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip underscore the challenges in trying to stop the guerrilla-style attacks they have used to hold onto Yemen’s capital and much of the war-ravaged country’s north since 2014.
The campaign has boosted the rebels’ standing in the Arab world, despite their human rights abuses in a yearslong stalemated war with several of America’s allies in the region. Analysts warn that the longer the Houthis’ attacks go on, the greater the risk that disruptions to international shipping will begin to weigh on the global economy.
On Monday, both the Houthis and Western officials acknowledged one of the most serious attacks on shipping launched by the rebels. The Houthis targeted the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar with two anti-ship ballistic missiles, and one struck the vessel, the US military’s Central Command said.
The Rubymar, which reported problems with its propulsion in November, apparently became inoperable, forcing her crew to abandon the vessel.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed on Monday night that the Rubymar sank. However, satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Rubymar still afloat at 2 p.m. local time Tuesday just north of the Bab el-Mandeb. A large oil slick trailed the vessel.
The Rubymar attack marked one of a few direct, serious hits by the Houthi rebels on shipping. In late January, another direct hit set a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker ablaze for hours.
Meanwhile, the Houthis early Tuesday released footage of what they described as a surface-to-air missile bringing down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone off the coast of Hodeida, a Yemeni port city they hold on the Red Sea. The footage included a video of men dragging pieces of debris from the water onto a beach.
Images of the debris, which included writing in English and what seemed to be electrical equipment, appeared to correspond to known pieces of the Reaper, usually used in attack missions and surveillance flights. A US defense official acknowledged Tuesday an MQ-9 “crashed off the coast of Yemen,” without elaborating.
In November, the Pentagon acknowledged the loss of an MQ-9, also shot down by the rebels over the Red Sea.
Since the Houthis seized the country’s north and its capital of Sanaa in 2014, the US military has lost at least four drones to shootdowns by the rebels — in 2017, 2019 and this year.
Meanwhile, the Houthis claimed an attack on the Sea Champion, a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Aden, Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina.
The rebels separately claimed an attack on the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Navis Fortuna, a ship that had been broadcasting its destination as Italy with an “all Chinese” crew to avoid being targeted. Private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel sustained minor damage in a drone attack.
The US shot down 10 bomb-carrying Houthi drones, as well as a cruise missile heading toward the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon over the last day, Central Command said Tuesday. The US military also conducted strikes targeting a Houthi surface-to-air missile launcher and a drone prior to its launch.
The Houthis acknowledged the drone attacks and claimed other assaults not immediately acknowledged by the West.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.
The European Union has launched its own campaign to protect shipping, with member France saying on Tuesday that it shot down two Houthi drones overnight in the Red Sea.
So far, no US sailor or pilot has been wounded by the Houthis since America launched its airstrikes targeting the rebels in January. However, the US continues to lose drones worth tens of millions of dollars and fire million-dollar cruise missiles to counter the Houthis, who are using far cheaper weapons that experts believe largely have been supplied by Iran.
Based on US military statements, American and allied forces have destroyed at least 73 missiles of different types before they were launched, as well as 17 drones, 13 bomb-laden drone boats and one underwater explosive drone over their monthlong campaign, according to an AP tally. Those figures don’t include the initial Jan. 11 joint US-UK strikes that began the campaign. The American military also has shot down dozens of missiles and drones already airborne since November.
The Houthis haven’t offered much information regarding their losses, though they’ve acknowledged at least 22 of their fighters have been killed in the American-led strikes. Insurgent forces including the Houthis and allied tribes in Yemen number around 20,000 fighters, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. They can operate in small units away from military bases, making targeting them more difficult.
The Houthis may view the costs as balanced by their sudden fame within an Arab world enraged by the killing of women and civilians by Israel in Gaza.
In the past, others — including the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — have used the Palestinians’ plight to justify their “actions and garner support,” wrote Fatima Abo Alasrar, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
“It legitimizes the Houthis’ actions in the eyes of those who sympathize with the Palestinian cause, distracts from the more immediate issues associated with the Yemen conflict and the failures of Houthi governance, and potentially broadens the base of their support beyond Yemen’s borders,” Alasrar added.
If the Houthi attacks continue, it could force the US to intensify and widen its counterattacks across an already volatile Mideast.
“Without a ceasefire in Gaza, the Houthis could be tempted to further escalate against US interests in the Red Sea and in the region,” wrote Eleonora Ardemagni, a fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.
For Washington, “deterrence options” are getting narrower, she added.

 


US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 52 min ago
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US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.


Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
Updated 18 April 2024
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Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
  • “We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said
  • Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike

JERUSALEM: Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran.
The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Weeks of talks toward an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack on Israel, also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.
The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths.
Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.
The international community has urged de-escalation since Iran’s attack on Israel which came after months of high tensions and violence involving Israel and Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.
Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike.
However, Tehran had also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States, which is Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region.”
Washington has made clear it won’t join any Israeli attack on Iran, but has pledged to instead impose new punitive sanctions against Iran.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said Netanyahu, after discussions with US President Joe Biden, decided not to proceed with pre-arranged plans for retaliatory strikes on Iran.
“Diplomatic sensitivities came into play,” a senior Israeli official told Kan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added that there would be a response, but that it would be different to the one initially planned.
US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Israeli sources, reported that Israel had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week.”
Among the range of possible responses considered by Israel were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.
German airline Lufthansa extended its suspension of flights to and from Tehran and Beirut to the end of April and said its planes would continue avoiding Iranian airspace.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed a European Union announcement of sanctions on Iran as “an important step” and wrote on X that “Iran must be stopped now before it is too late.”
Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.
“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said.
An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight.
The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.
The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll on Thursday from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.
Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.
Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood, the civil defense service said.
One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place.”
Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials.
He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar,” which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected this, saying Israeli efforts were “above and beyond” what is needed “on the humanitarian issue,” his office said.
The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.
However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move.


Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
Updated 18 April 2024
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Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
  • The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport will return to its full operational capacity within 24 hours, Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al-Joker told state news agency WAM on Thursday.
The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
“Once operations are back to normal, we will assess the damages and would be able to give figure for the size of losses,” Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV in a televised interview.


British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
Updated 18 April 2024
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British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
  • Signatories to open letter say Iranian organization has ‘never posed a greater threat to UK’
  • Proscription would put Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on par with Daesh, Al-Qaeda

LONDON: A cross-party group of more than 50 MPs and Lords peers in the UK have demanded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated a terrorist organization.

The cross-party group, which includes former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, made the request in an open letter to The Times.

The IRGC is a key component of Iran’s military and power-projection capabilities. More than 125,000 personnel serve in its ranks, spread across wings including the Quds Force, the overseas element responsible for liaising with and supporting militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In recent years, the IRGC has also built a relationship with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The open letter, signed by 134 people, follows last weekend’s Iranian attack on Israel, which signatories described as the “latest chapter of destructive terror by the IRGC.”

It says: “The government has combated extremism and terrorism by proscribing Hamas and Hezbollah but it is not enough.

“The IRGC is the primary source of ideological radicalisation, funding, equipment and training for these groups.

“The government must act against the root cause and proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.”

Iran’s attack was a response to Israel’s strike on its consulate in Damascus that killed 11 people, including senior commanders.

Former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019, a year before the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force.

But the UK has been reluctant to follow the US measure for fear of breaking diplomatic communication channels with Tehran.

As part of sanctions on Iran targeting its nuclear program, however, the UK sanctioned the IRGC, freezing the assets of its members and implementing travel bans.

A terrorist designation in the UK would put the IRGC on par with Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and make it illegal to support the group, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

The 134 signatories said the IRGC has “never posed a greater threat to the UK,” accusing “thugs” belonging to the group of stabbing an Iranian dissident in London last month.

The letter was coordinated by the UK-Israel All Parliamentary Party Group, which includes former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.


Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’
Updated 18 April 2024
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Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’
  • Tehran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend
  • Top envoy: Iran communicated with Washington ‘before and after’ launching its attack on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran’s top diplomat said Thursday his country has told the United States that it is not seeking escalation after an unprecedented attack on Israel.
The Islamic republic carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend. The barrage — to which Israel’s army chief has vowed a response — was retaliation for an April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus. Iran blamed Israel for the consular attack.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who is in New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting, said his country has “tried to tell the United States clearly” that Iran is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region,” he said in a video posted by his ministry.
Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, but neutral Switzerland represents Washington’s interests in Iran. Both the US and Iran have alluded to the Swiss role as an intermediary.
According to Amir-Abdollahian, Iran communicated with Washington “before and after” launching its attack on Israel.
Iran informed the United States that the decision by the Islamic Republic of Iran to “respond to the (Israel) regime is final,” and the matter concluded, he said.
Iran’s retaliation against Israel left a girl severely wounded but caused little damage. It followed the strike in Damascus that killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
“Before the operation, we clearly told the American side that we will not target American bases and interests in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
The Islamic republic has celebrated the attack as a success but President Ebrahim Raisi warned of “a fierce and severe response” to further “aggression” by Israel.
During his trip to New York, Amir-Abdollahian is set to meet United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his counterparts from other countries.
The United States, Israel’s top ally, has said it would soon impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone program following the strike on Israel, and said it expects allies to take parallel measures.
The US and other allies helped Israel intercept the Iranian strike.