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US and UK airstrikes slow Iran from supplying weapons to Houthis, officials say

Huthi fighters brandish their weapons during a protest following U.S. and British forces' airstrikes, in the Huthi-controlled capital of Sanaa, Yemen, on Jan. 12, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant Hamas group in Gaza. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Iran isn’t yet restocking Houthi rebels with weapons by sea after the United States and United Kingdom airstrikes in Yemen last week, Western officials said, signaling cautious optimism that the military action had some success in disrupting the supply of arms to the group.

At least temporarily, the strikes appeared to have cut off key supply lines from Iran to Yemen, the people said, while stressing it was still too early to assess their long-term impact. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence that hasn’t been made public.

The Biden administration has sought to lead efforts to deter further attacks on the Red Sea by the group, while balancing a desire to protect the vital shipping route with averting a wider Mideast war.

On Tuesday, the U.S. hit four Houthi missiles in Yemen in a preemptive strike, a far more limited move than the one carried out on Jan. 11. Those further strikes came after two commercial ships in the Red Sea were hit by missiles in the space of 24 hours.

The Greek-owned commodity carrier Zografia was hit by a missile while sailing in the south of the waterway on Tuesday, while a day earlier, a U.S.-owned bulk freighter called the Gibraltar Eagle was struck. That suggested the joint U.S.-UK action last week had not deterred the Houthis from carrying out further attacks.

Still, American and British officials report that no shipments have been attempted since Jan. 11 along supply routes that they say Iran has used for years used to transport weapons to the Houthis via the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman, including via Somalia.

One official described that as a positive sign, while cautioning that Tehran could restart efforts to arm the Houthis. Another official said a primary objective of the strikes against the Houthis was to knock out its ability to restock weapons quickly, though they said the rebels receive arms via multiple routes, including over land.

At the White House, John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, acknowledged the initial large-scale U.S. airstrikes didn’t completely stop the Houthi attacks, though he stressed that hadn’t been expected. “We have seen some additional lower-scale retaliatory strikes by the Houthis in the last few days, much smaller than what we had seen before and none of them effective.”

Addressing the U.S. attacks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said “we are not looking for regional conflict.” But he said “we reserve the right to take further action” because the Houthis can’t be permitted to “basically hijack” world trade.


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