The twin attacks showed the Houthis’ intention and apparent ability to continue their assaults on commercial shipping, days after the United States and Britain began conducting airstrikes against the group aimed at deterring the maritime attacks. Using missiles and drones, the Yemeni militants have carried out more than two dozen assaults in the Red Sea since the beginning of November.
The Red Sea, which connects to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, is one of the world’s most important shipping routes. Around 12 percent of all global trade passes through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.
The Houthis have controlled a large swath of Yemen since deposing the central government in 2014. The group has said their attacks in the Red Sea are aimed at ending Israel’s siege and offensive in the Gaza Strip.
A statement by the Houthi naval forces carried by the group’s Masirah news channel Monday said they would “continue to prevent Israeli ships” or those headed to Israeli ports from transiting “until the aggression and siege on Gaza stops.”
The Houthis did not immediately comment on the attack on the M/V Gibraltar Eagle. Eagle Bulk Shipping, the vessel’s operator, confirmed in a statement that the ship was hit by an unidentified projectile while sailing about 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Aden.
There was “limited damage” to a cargo hold but no injuries, the company said. The ship was carrying steel products, the statement said.
Monday’s attacks highlighted the challenge facing the Biden administration and its international partners after vowing to hold the Houthis as well as Iran, the group’s main backer, accountable for a steep rise in attacks that have disrupted commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
Experts on the Houthis say they are unlikely to be deterred. The group survived after fighting several wars against Yemen’s central government in the early 2000s and absorbed years of airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition over the last decade during Yemen’s continuing civil conflict, emerging stronger than before.
The Houthi attacks, and the joint U.S.-British response, have intensified fears that Israel’s war in Gaza will further spread beyond the besieged Palestinian enclave and engulf the region in violence.
Senior U.S. officials openly blame Tehran for having “aided and abetted” the crisis, saying the Houthis would be incapable of threatening the shipping route if not for Iran’s technological and intelligence support. On Thursday, U.S. and British forces struck numerous sites in Yemen that officials said were used by the Houthis to stage their attacks.
The operation targeted radar stations, missile launch sites and weapons storage facilities, the Pentagon said. A top U.S. general indicated later that the group would probably remain a threat.