Houthi supporters raise guns and shout slogans against the U.S. and Britain during a tribal gathering on the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen, Jan. 14, 2024.
Mohammed Hamoud | Getty Images
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels are “enthusiastically confronting America head-on,” the organization’s leader said in a televised address, pledging to continue the group’s campaign of attacks on ships in the Red Sea until Israel’s blockade of Gaza is lifted.
The comments came as the US stepped up attacks on Houthi targets and before President Joe Biden admitted to reporters that his administration’s military action had so far not had the intended effect.
“When you say work, are they stopping the Houthis?” Biden, in an exchange with reporters in Washington, DC, said: “No. Will they continue? Yes.” The White House redesignated the Houthis as a terrorist organization on January 17, after delisting the group in 2021.
Late Thursday evening, the US carried out its fifth airstrike against Houthi targets in Yemen. American jets targeted anti-ship missiles that, according to US Central Command, were “aimed at the southern Red Sea and ready to be fired.”
As if to confirm Biden’s comments, the Iran-backed rebel group fired two anti-ship missiles at a US tanker within hours. The ship, a small chemical tanker named Chem Ranger, reported no injuries or damage to the vessel.
It was “a great honor and blessing to face America head-on,” Houthi leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi said in his defiant hour-long speech that relied heavily on religious rhetoric. He claimed that the US and UK attacks on Yemen had only improved its military’s technology and that this proved that the Houthis’ strategy of targeting Israeli ships or those coming to or from Israel was working.
The Houthis’ actions have certainly helped disrupt transportation and maritime trade in the region: major shipping companies have suspended all shipments in the Red Sea and Suez Canal, opting instead to circumnavigate the African continent, causing significant delays and supply shortages led and cost companies billions of dollars.
Al-Houthi also took a personal swipe at the American president, deriding Biden as “an older man who has difficulty climbing the stairs of a plane, but who travels 9,000 miles to attack those who stand by the oppressed people of Gaza wanted to stand.”
The Biden administration, along with the British government, began retaliatory strikes against the Houthis, who control most of Yemen, on January 12 after the group carried out dozens of attacks on ships transiting the Red Sea over several weeks. Yemeni rebels say their campaign is a response to Israel’s relentless bombing of the Gaza Strip and U.S. support for it.
The Houthi leader vowed to continue attacks until Israel lifts its blockade of Gaza, saying that “nothing – not all the threats, the rockets, the pressure – will change our position.”
Israel’s offensive on Gaza began after Hamas militants from the Palestinian enclave launched a terror attack on southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking another 240 hostage, of which 136 people are still captive.
According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, the Israeli response, which included a full siege of the already blockaded area and daily airstrikes, has killed more than 24,000 people and triggered severe disruptions to food supplies.