The US and the UK have launched airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen whose continued attacks are disrupting trade in the Red Sea. Rishi Sunak convened his cabinet on Thursday night to discuss what action would be taken. Strikes were reported in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and the Houthi stronghold port of Hudaydah. Downing Street said that the strikes were carried out by the Royal Air Force on military facilities.
The UK’s National Security Council met on Thursday, and an emergency meeting of Cobra was convened. The Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker of the House of Commons were briefed. It’s understood that Sunak will not recall parliament on Friday to discuss the intervention. On Thursday the Liberal Democrats called on the Prime Minister to hold a vote if strikes were to take place before parliament’s return on Monday.
Military action is not a surprise. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps on Wednesday told the Houthis to ‘watch this space’, and the Wall Street Journal reported that the Houthis were anticipating an attack. The airstrikes began shortly before midnight GMT on Thursday. Non-operational help was given by the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain.
Between 12 and 15 per cent of global trade moves through the Red Sea. The Houthi rebels, based in Yemen and aligned with Iran, have been disrupting that trade for two months by firing cheap drones at ships purportedly linked to Israel (many have not been). British and American warships have been using much more expensive missiles to shoot down these drones. As a consequence, 20 per cent of the world’s container ships are avoiding the Red Sea and are going around the south of Africa instead. The number of companies using the Suez route is down 90 per cent on this time last year.
The Houthis were warned. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that ‘if this continues… there will be consequences’.