Roving Periscope: As the West targets the Houthis in Yemen, the Gaza War may widen
New Delhi: As the US and British forces launched fierce attacks on the Shia Houthi sites in Yemen and the Red Sea on Friday to clear the way for maritime traffic comprising over 2,000 commercial ships, and Iran threatening to retaliate, the three-month-old Gaza War involving Israel and the Palestinians may escalate and spread.
Since the war began between Israel and Gaza in October 2023, pro-Iran Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria have also been targeting the Jewish state.
Israel is currently fighting against all three H-groups supported by Iran: the Sunni Hamas in Gaza, the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Shia Houthi in Yemen.
US President Joe Biden warned on Friday that the Houthis could face further strikes.
Early Saturday, the US military struck a key Houthi-controlled site in Yemen for putting commercial vessels in the Red Sea at risk.
On Friday, the two Western forces hit 28 locations and struck more than 60 targets. A day later, the US struck a radar site, a threat to maritime traffic.
The Houthis said at least five sites, including airfields, had been attacked.
Earlier on Friday, the US Navy warned American-flagged vessels to keep away from areas around Yemen in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for the next 72 hours as it launched multiple airstrikes against Houthi terrorists.
The warning came as the Houthis vowed fierce retaliation for the US-led strikes, triggering fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East already beset by the Gaza War.
The US-led action came after the Houthis’ recent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the vital Red Sea killed at least five people and wounded six. Washington said the strikes, in two waves, aimed at targets in 28 different locations across Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.
President Biden also pushed back against some lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who said he should have sought US Congressional authorization before carrying out the strikes.
The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the military action from the hospital where he is recovering from complications following prostate cancer surgery.
Lieutenant General Douglas Sims, Director of the Joint Staff, said the fresh US strikes were largely in low-populated areas in Yemen, and the number of those killed would not be high. He said the strikes hit weapons, radar, and targeting sites, including in remote mountain areas controlled by Houthis.
Since November 2023, the Houthis repeatedly targeted commercial ships in the Red Sea, avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they also frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade and energy shipments.
The Houthis’ military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Saree said in a recorded address that the US strikes would not go unanswered or unpunished.
President Biden told reporters that Iran has received a clear message. “They know not to do anything,” he said.
Though the US and its allies tried to calm tensions in the Middle East for weeks and prevent any wider conflict, their fresh strikes threatened to ignite one.
Saudi Arabia, which supports the Sunni Yemen government-in-exile that the Shia Houthis are fighting against, distanced itself from the US-British attacks as it sought to maintain a delicate detente with Iran and a cease-fire in Yemen.
The Saudi-led, US-backed war in Yemen since March 2015 has killed over 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more.