U.S. President Joe Biden is facing increasing pressure to attack Houthi targets in Yemen as the Iranian-backed terrorist army continues to threaten commercial shipping interests in the Red Sea, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
Navy helicopters sank three “Iranian-backed Houthi small boats” in the southern Red Sea, killing the crews, the U.S. military said on Sunday, in what appeared to be the first confrontation between the U.S. and the Houthis since the current Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 8.
According to the report, Pentagon officials have come up with detailed plans to strike missile and drone bases in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen but the Biden administration is hesitant to use force against the terrorist group due to concerns that it would benefit Iran and contribute to a wider regional conflict, which the White House has been keen to avoid.
The Biden administration is also concerned that a direct U.S.-Houthi confrontation could endanger the fragile truce between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, the report says.
However, the U.S. Defense Department is concerned that not responding to attacks from Iranian terrorist proxies reduces deterrence and puts military personnel and assets at greater risk, according to the report.
“The bigger issue is that the U.S. since early October has also been accepting as normal persistent Houthi missile and drone attacks” in the Red Sea, Vice Adm. (ret.) Kevin Donegan, a former commander of the Fifth Fleet, told the Times.
“Not responding when U.S. forces are attacked in any fashion risks the lives of U.S. sailors and marines if a missile were to make it past U.S. defenses,’’ he said. “It also sets a new precedent that attacking a U.S. ship carries low risk of retaliation and as we have seen invites more attacks from the Houthis.”
The U.S. Fifth Fleet is responsible for American naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.
The Iranian terrorist proxy in Yemen has undertaken an offensive against maritime trade in the Bab el-Mandeb strait since mid-November, engaging in numerous anti-ship drone and missile attacks and acts of piracy against commercial and military vessels.
Since declaring their support for the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza in its war against Israel sparked by the Oct. 7 massacre in the northwestern Negev, the Houthis have also launched regular long-range missile and drone attacks on Israel.
The U.S. is leading “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” a multinational coalition of naval forces protecting shipping in the Red Sea, which includes about 20 countries.
One of those countries, Britain, is also considering taking “direct action” against the Houthis. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps published comments to that effect in an article in the Telegraph on Sunday.
Shapps said the U.K. “won’t hesitate to take further action to deter threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. The Houthis should be under no misunderstanding: we are committed to holding malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks.”
‘USS Gerald R. Ford’ to exit Med
The USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier strike group will depart the Eastern Mediterranean more than two months after being deployed there to deter a wider regional conflict following the Hamas attack on Israel, ABC News reported on Sunday.
According to two U.S. officials, the group, which includes Gerald R. Ford— the largest warship ever built—and five other surface warships, will return to its home base in Norfolk, Virginia, “in the coming days.”
The Gerald R. Ford was originally scheduled to return to Virginia a few months ago but had its deployment extended because of the Hamas war.
A senior official said that even without the strike group, the U.S. will still have a strong military capability in the region and the flexibility to deploy additional cruisers and destroyers to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Iranian warship enters Red Sea
The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy frigate Alborz passed through the Bab el-Mandeb strait and entered the Red Sea, the country’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday.
Iranian warships have been operating in the region “to secure shipping lanes since 2009,” according to Tasnim.