US official says Yemen rebels fire missile into busy Red Sea

Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched at least one missile into the busy waters of Red Sea over the weekend, a U.S. official said Monday, raising the risk of the rebels striking one of the many commercial vessels using a waterway crucial to global shipping.

The Red Sea connects onto the Suez Canal, which sends cargo and energy shipments from the wider Mideast to Europe. Since seizing Yemen’s capital in September 2014, the Houthis have launched missiles, deployed bomb-laden drone boats and released mines into the Red Sea.

The missile fire took place Saturday in the Red Sea, the Navy said. An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the Houthis had conducted the launch.

“Although maritime traffic was not impacted in this instance, these actions are destabilizing and present a danger to all vessels transiting a critical international waterway,” the Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said.

Spokesmen for the Iranian-backed Houthis did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Saudi Arabia, which has led a coalition battling the Houthis since March 2015 and has a coastline stretching some 1,760 kilometers (1,100 miles) along the Red Sea, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Houthi missile fire in the Red Sea has come near an American warship before. In October 2016, the U.S. Navy said the USS Mason came under fire from two missiles launched out of Yemen. Neither reached the warship, though the U.S. retaliated with Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast.

The week before, the Emirati vessel SWIFT-1 came under Houthi missile attack. The Emirati government asserted the SWIFT-1 at the time carried humanitarian aid; U.N. experts later said of the claim that they were “unconvinced of its veracity.” The vessel had been sailing back and forth in the Red Sea between an Emirati troop base in Eritrea and Yemen.

In April 2021, an Iranian cargo ship that is said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces came under attack in the Red Sea — likely part of a wider shadow war between Israel and Tehran.

More recently in January, the Houthis seized the Emirati-flagged ship Rwabee in the Red Sea off Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition asserted the ship carried medical equipment from a dismantled Saudi field hospital. The Houthis released video showing military-style inflatable rafts, trucks and other vehicles on the vessel, as well as rifles.

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