The Iran-backed Houthi rebels are intensifying their attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea. The rebels from Yemen again attacked several freighters in the sea area.

A US Navy destroyer came to the ships’ aid and shot down several drones. The US military said it was still unclear whether the destroyer “USS Carney” itself was the target of one of the attempted drone attacks. The Houthis themselves claimed attacks on two ships and once again threatened further attacks on Israeli freighters.

One of the world’s most important shipping routes runs along the Yemeni coast to and from the Suez Canal in Egypt. This canal connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, providing the shortest sea route from Asia to Europe. Around ten percent of all world trade passes through the Red Sea.

The threat of the Houthis

The Houthi rebels in Yemen had previously threatened to attack “all ships” linked to Israel – in response to Israel’s war against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Houthi military spokesman Jahja Sari said all ships that fly the Israeli flag, that are owned by Israeli companies or that are operated by Israeli companies are a target. He repeated this threat on Sunday, saying that the rebels had attacked two Israeli ships in the Bab al-Mandab Strait with a missile and a drone. These are the ships “Unity Explorer” and “Number 9”.

Israel’s army spokesman Daniel Hagari emphasized that the two ships had no connection to the State of Israel. One of the ships was significantly damaged and was in distress. It is in danger of sinking.

The series of attacks

The responsible regional command of the US military, Centcom, said there were four attacks on three different merchant ships traveling in the Red Sea on Sunday. The naval destroyer “USS Carney” patrolling there responded to distress calls from the freighters and provided assistance.

The ship “Unity Exlorer”, which sails under the flag of the Bahamas and is owned by the British, was the target of attacks twice. Both times the rockets were fired from areas in Yemen controlled by the Houthi rebels. A missile landed near the ship and another hit the freighter. There was minor damage.

The US military also said another missile from Houthi territory hit the freighter “Number 9,” ​​which sails under the Panamanian flag and has owners from Bermuda and Great Britain. The ship was damaged. In addition, a ship named “Sophie II”, which sails under the Panamanian flag, reported a rocket fire. In this case, the Americans did not provide any details about the origin of the rocket.

According to the military, the US destroyer intercepted several drones that had taken off from Houthi areas during the series of attacks – one of which flew towards the “USS Carney” itself. It cannot be determined at this point whether the naval destroyer was the target. “The US ship was not damaged and there were no injuries,” it said.

The fear of escalation

But the US military complained: “These attacks pose a direct threat to international trade and maritime security.” They endangered the lives of international crews. “We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, although carried out by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully supported by Iran.” The USA would now discuss all appropriate measures in coordination with international partners.

There have been other incidents of this kind in the Red Sea in recent weeks. The US destroyer “USS Carney” recently shot down several cruise missiles and drones that, according to the US, were launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen. In mid-November, the rebels also hijacked a cargo ship partly owned by a British-Israeli businessman. The Houthis took over large parts of Yemen in 2014 and now control large areas in the north, including the capital Sanaa.

Since the start of the Gaza war, attacks by Iran-aligned groups on US forces in the Middle East have increased. This raises concerns of an even greater escalation in the region.