Why Britain Supports the US Plan for Bombing Houthi Red Sea Bases

American and British intelligence experts are gathering detailed targeting information for a potential strike on Houthi missile sites as continued rebel attacks on Red Sea shipping threaten global trade.

The likelihood of significant Western retaliation against Yemen is increasing, with plans considering missile attacks, air strikes, and special forces raids. Despite provocation, Washington has deferred striking Yemen to avoid inflaming the Middle East region.

The attacks have affected a route vital to East-West trade, especially oil, as ships use the Red Sea to gain access to the Suez Canal. As a result, some of the world’s largest shipping companies have diverted vessels around southern Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, adding time and cost to voyages.

US inaction is causing concern, as at least 16 major firms have announced rerouted shipments. The disruption could drive up delivery costs for goods, raising fears of global inflation. The US and UK are joining an 11-country statement condemning the “illegal and unjustified attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea” by Houthi operatives.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has warned the UK to take “necessary and proportionate action” against the Iran-backed Houthis, stating that they should be held accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman stated that planning is underway for various scenarios due to the operational nature of the situation.

Military analyst Sam Cranny-Evans argued that it would be unwise to allow the Houthis to continue attacks unbridled, as not to act encourages them and Iran feels emboldened by US restraint.

With three US warships and the British Type-45 destroyer HMS Diamond in the Red Sea, a formidable Western arsenal is on hand. Sidharth Kaushal of the Rusi think tank suggested that a mechanism to compel the Houthis to cease firing is likely to be a punitive strike.

Since the first wave of attacks in October, the British and Americans have been conducting high-level surveillance of Houthi radar sites, missile launchers, manufacturing hubs, and command and control centres.

Defence sources suggest that allies have used satellites, drones, and RAF P8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft to locate targets, including a missile production plant near Sanaa. Initial strikes are likely to be Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US warships in the Red Sea, capable of travelling at over 900kph with a 450kg warhead.

These missiles are likely programmed with target data ready to be fired on US President Joe Biden’s command. A coordinated missile and aerial bombing raid could be launched to pulverize Houthi capabilities in a swift “shock and awe” operation.

US fighters would fly from the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier in the Gulf, using their tracking and bombing capabilities to strike mobile missile and drone launchers. RAF Typhoon fighter bombers could be launched from Cyprus, although refuelling support from tankers is required.

The Houthis, known for their camouflage skills, pose a significant threat to air defense forces. They have successfully used air defense missiles during conflicts with Saudi Arabia and UAE, damaging or destroying several aircraft. There is speculation that US or British special forces could raid harbors to destroy Houthi fast boats with explosives, but this would be high risk with the threat of casualties or capture.

Special forces might be considered if a target is hardened, buried, or hidden, making detection from the air difficult. Additionally, the Houthis may use fishing boat radar to track Red Sea shipping for missile or drone attacks, making these targets potentially targets for special forces.

Iran, which has warships in Yemen and supplies weapons to the Houthis, could be targeted if they are found to be assisting in Houthi attacks. An alleged Israeli covert drone or missile attack in 2021 severely damaged an Iranian Saviz spy ship. Iran has since increased its anti-piracy and intelligence collection operations with frigates Alborz in the Red Sea and Jamaran in the Gulf of Aden.

If warships are found to be assisting Houthi attacks, they could become targets themselves, but this would be a significant escalation unless done covertly. Farea Al Muslimi of the Chatham House think tank warned that air strikes in Yemen would be questionable due to the large land mass and the Houthis’s shrewdness. A US-led attack could also allow the Houthis to claim a “new front” against Washington.

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