US Calls Houthi Shipping Threat an ‘All Hands on Deck’ Issue

Anti-Ship Missiles Taken Out After Houthis Attack Ship in Red Sea
Jake Sullivan
Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Adviser, speaks during the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 16. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

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JERUSALEM — The U.S. launched a new strike against the Yemen-based Houthis on Jan. 16, hitting anti-ship missiles in the third assault on the Iranian-backed group in recent days, the U.S. military said.

The strike came as the Iranian-backed Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile attack against the Malta-flagged bulk carrier Zografia, also on Jan. 16, in the Red Sea. The ship was hit, but no one was injured. The vessel had been heading north to the Suez Canal when it was attacked, the Greek Shipping and Island Policy Ministry said.

According to a U.S. Central Command statement, the overnight strike destroyed four Houthi ballistic missiles that were prepared to launch and presented an imminent threat to merchant and U.S. Navy ships in the region. The Houthi attack on the Zografia occurred later Jan. 16 and involved an anti-ship ballistic missile, the statement said, adding that the ship continued its Red Sea transit.

This latest exchange suggests there has been no let-up in Houthi attacks on shipping in the region despite the massive U.S. and British assault on the group on Jan. 12, bombing more than 60 targets in 28 locations using warship- and submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Jan. 16 that addressing the ongoing Houthi threat was an “all hands on deck” problem that the U.S. and allies must address to minimize impact on the global economy. And he said that the maritime attacks, coupled with ongoing threats from other Iran-backed militants in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, mean that allies must “be vigilant against the possibility that in fact, rather than heading towards de-escalation, we are on a path of escalation that we have to manage.”

The Houthis’ military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, said in a pre-recorded statement that it fired after the ship’s crew refused to answer warning calls and that the vessel was heading for a port in Israel. According to the shipping tracking website Vessel Finder, Zografia was bound for Suez, Egypt.

Iranian ship

Central Command says this vessel carried Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthi in the Arabian Sea. (U.S. Central Command via Associated Press)

The Zografia, managed by a Greek firm, had no cargo onboard and sustained only material damage, the ministry said. The crew included 20 Ukrainians, three Filipinos and one Georgian.

Amid the latest attacks, U.S. Navy SEALs seized Iranian-made missile parts and other weaponry from a ship bound for Yemen’s Houthi rebels in a raid last week that saw two of its commandos go missing, the U.S. military said Jan. 16.

The raid marks the latest seizure by the U.S. Navy and its allies of weapon shipments bound for the rebels, who have launched a series of attacks now threatening global trade in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The seized missile components included types likely used in those attacks.

Since November, the Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they were avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.

U.S.-led airstrikes also targeted Houthi positions on Jan. 13. In response, the Houthis launched a missile at a U.S.-owned bulk carrier called the Gibraltar Eagle in the Gulf of Aden on Jan. 15, further raising the risks in the conflict.

Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, and Tara Copp and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report. Baldor reported from Washington.

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