DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels hit three commercial ships in the Red Sea on Sunday, while a U.S. warship shot down three drones in self-defense during the hour-long assault, the United Arab Emirates said. US Army. The Houthis, backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for two of the attacks.
The attacks marked an escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Middle East related to the war between Israel and Hamas, as several ships found themselves in the crosshairs of a single Houthi attack for the first time in the conflict. The United States promised to “consider all appropriate responses” following the attack, specifically denouncing Iran, after tensions have been high for years over the rapid advancement of Tehran’s nuclear program.
“These attacks represent a direct threat to international trade and maritime security,” the US military’s Central Command said in a statement. “They have endangered the lives of international crews representing several countries around the world.”
He added: “We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, although launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully permitted by Iran.”
The attack began around 9:15 a.m. local time (0615 GMT) in Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, Central Command said.
The USS Carney, a Navy destroyer, detected a ballistic missile fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen at the Bahamian-flagged bulk carrier Unity Explorer. The missile hit near the ship, the United States said. Shortly afterward, the Carney shot down a drone headed toward it, although it is unclear if the destroyer was the target, Central Command said.
About 30 minutes later, the Unity Explorer was hit by a missile. While responding to its distress call, the Carney shot down another incoming drone. Central Command said the Unity Explorer suffered minor damage from the missile.
Two other commercial ships, the Panamanian-flagged bulk carriers Number 9 and Sophie II, were hit by missiles. Number 9 reported some damage but no casualties, and Sophie II reported no significant damage, Central Command said.
While sailing to assist the Sophie II around 16:30 local time (13:30 GMT), the Carney shot down another drone heading in its direction. The drones caused no damage.
The Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, has shot down multiple rockets that the Houthis have fired toward Israel during that nation’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. She has not been harmed in any of the incidents and no injuries have been reported on board. The Defense Department initially described the assault as simply an attack on the Carney before providing more details.
Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed responsibility for two of Sunday’s attacks, saying the first ship was hit by a missile and the second by a drone while in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. . Saree did not mention any American warships involved.
“The Yemeni military continues to prevent Israeli ships from sailing through the Red Sea (and the Gulf of Aden) until Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip ceases,” Saree said. “The Yemeni armed forces renew their warning to all Israeli ships or those associated with Israelis that they will become a legitimate target if they violate what is stated in this declaration.”
Saree also identified the first ship as the Unity Explorer, owned by a British company that includes Dan David Ungar, who lives in Israel, as one of its officers. Number 9 is linked to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.
The owner of the Sophie II, Kyowa Kisen of Imabari, Japan, told The Associated Press that the ship’s crew was safe and the ship was not seriously damaged. Managers of the other two ships could not immediately be reached for comment.
Israeli media identified Ungar as the son of Israeli shipping billionaire Abraham “Rami” Ungar.
Iran has yet to directly address the attacks. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian threatened “that if the current situation continues, the region will enter a new phase” due to the war between Israel and Hamas.
“All parties seeking to start a war are warned, before it is too late, to stop the killing of women and children, of which a new round has begun,” Amirabdollahian said.
Iran’s top diplomat described his comments as following talks with “resistance forces” in the region, a description Tehran uses for Shiite militias it backs, including groups in Iraq, the Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as well as the Sunni Hamas fighters. All have threatened or attacked Israel, Iran’s regional archrival, during the war.
The Houthis have launched a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, as well as launching drones and missiles at Israel. Analysts suggest the Houthis hope to shore up waning popular support after years of civil war in Yemen between them and Saudi-backed forces.
The United States has not said its Navy ships were attacked, but has said Houthi drones have targeted the ships and been shot down in self-defense. Washington has so far refused to respond directly to the attacks, as has Israel, whose military continues to try to describe the ships as having no ties to its country.
Global shipping has increasingly come under attack as the war between Israel and Hamas threatens to escalate into a broader regional conflict, even as a truce briefly halted the fighting and Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. However, the collapse of the truce and the resumption of punishing Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and a ground offensive there had raised the risk of more maritime strikes.
In November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship also linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels are still holding the ship near the port city of Hodeida. Missiles also landed near another US warship last week after it helped an Israel-linked ship that had been briefly captured by gunmen. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire was recently attacked by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.
The Houthis had not directly attacked the Americans for some time, further raising the stakes in the growing maritime conflict. In 2016, the United States launched Tomahawk cruise missiles that destroyed three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory in retaliation for missiles being fired at US Navy ships at the time.
Associated Press writers Tara Copp in Dallas, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Dana Beltaji contributed to this report.