Fresh UK-US strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen ‘about protecting innocent lives’, Shapps says

Grant Shapps said Britain launched further ‘proportionate and targeted’ strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen

Archie Mitchell
Sunday 04 February 2024 12:07 GMT
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Houthis are 'damaging people's shopping', says Sunak as he defends UK strikes in Yemen

Britain joined the US for a third time carrying out a wave of airstrikes on Houthi targets in a bid to prevent further attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea.

Rishi Sunak said the strikes were aimed at “further degrading the Houthis’ capabilities” in the region.

“Recent attacks on UK and international vessels are unacceptable. It’s our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom,” the prime minister added.

And defence secretary Grant Shapps said the fresh assaults were “not an escalation”, but instead were designed to “protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation” along the key shipping route.

Grant Shapps said the UK’s commitment to protect lives in the Red Sea is ‘unwavering’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s were supported by Voyager tankers during the joint mission on Saturday with Washington, as they targeted locations in Yemen used by the Houthis, an Iran-backed militant group.

More than 30 sites across 13 locations were hit by coalition forces, according to a joint statement by the eight nations involved.

The Houthis have repeatedly launched attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and elsewhere off the Yemen coast, claiming it is targeting Israeli or Israel-destined ships in protest over the war with Hamas in Gaza.

However, they have frequently targeted ships with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, endangering shipping on a key global trade route used for accessing the Suez Canal.

The Houthis’ attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea are illegal and unacceptable and it is our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps

As a result of the clashes in the southern Red Sea and the Bab al Mandab Strait, vessels have had to be redirected around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, a journey that takes longer and is more costly.

It is feared the disruption could fuel inflation and push up the price of goods in shops.

The combined strikes follow an air assault by the US in Iraq and Syria on Friday that targeted other Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three American troops in Jordan last weekend.

During Saturday’s attacks, RAF Typhoons used precision guided bombs against several military targets at three locations, the MoD said.

According to the Whitehall department, allied intelligence had calculated some of the stations were being used to launch drone attacks and to spy on cargo ships and Western warships.

The ministry said the night time raids were designed to minimist the risk of civilian casualties.

Mr Shapps said: “The Houthis’ attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea are illegal and unacceptable and it is our duty to protect innocent lives and preserve freedom of navigation.

“That is why the Royal Air Force engaged in a third wave of proportionate and targeted strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

“We acted alongside our US allies, with the support of many international partners, in self-defence and in accordance with international law.

“This is not an escalation. We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities.”

A joint statement on the strikes from the UK, US, Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand said it was “an additional round of proportionate and necessary strikes against 36 Houthi targets across 13 locations in Yemen”.

It said the assault was in response to “a series of illegal, dangerous, and destabilising Houthi actions” since previous coalition strikes on January 11 and 22.

“Today’s strike specifically targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defence systems, and radars,” they said in the statement.

“The Houthis’ now more than 30 attacks on commercial vessels and naval vessels since mid-November constitute an international challenge.”

The coalition reiterated its warning to Houthi leadership, saying “we will not hesitate to continue to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways”.

Lord Cameron has vowed to hold Iran to account for the actions of its proxy groups, such as the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The foreign secretary told The Sunday Times: “I have met with the Iranian foreign minister and had a very robust conversation where I said that these proxies are your proxies, you cannot disclaim your responsibility for them.

“Of course you can claim they have a certain amount of independence but you created them, you backed them, you financed them, you provided them with weapons, and you will ultimately be held accountable for what they do.”

He defended the UK resisting proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation, insisting the move was not required by police or other security authorities to sanction and prosecute the military might of the Tehran regime.

Lord Cameron said it was better to be able to “deliver a very direct message to the Iranians” in person rather than rely on allies to issue rebukes.

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