There was near unanimous condemnation of Al Houthi attacks in speeches Wednesday by the 15 council members, and many calls for the militant group to release the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship with links to an Israeli company that it seized on November19 along with its crew. Image Credit: Reuters file

UNITED NATIONS: The United States called on the UN Security Council on Wednesday to take urgent action against Yemen’s Al Houthi militants for attacking ships in the key Red Sea trade route and warned their longtime financier Iran that it has a choice to make about continuing to provide support to the militia.

US deputy ambassador Christopher Lu told an emergency council meeting that the Al Houthis have carried out more than 20 attacks since November 19 — and despite losing 10 militants in a confrontation with US forces after trying unsuccessfully to board a cargo ship on Sunday, the militia group announced Wednesday morning they had targeted another container ship.

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Al Houthis, who have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2014, have said they launched the attacks on ships in the Red Sea with the aim of ending Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip triggered by the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ October 7 surprise attack in southern Israel.

International Maritime Organisation Secretary-General Arsenio Dominguez told the council that as a result of Al Houthi attacks, around 18 shipping companies have rerouted their vessels around South Africa to avoid the risk of being hit.

Additional 10-day journey

Some 15 per cent of international trade goes through the vital Red Sea area, he said, and rerouting ships around the Cape of Good Hope represents an additional 10-day journey, negatively impacts global trade, and increases freight rates.

US envoy Lu stressed to the council that Al Houthis have been able to carry out the attacks because Iran has supplied them with money and advanced weapons systems including drones, land attack cruise missiles and ballistic missiles – in violation of UN sanctions.

“We also know that Iran has been deeply involved in planning operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” Lu said.

He said the United States isn’t seeking a confrontation with Iran but Tehran has a choice.

“It can continue its current course,” Lu said, “or it can withhold its support without which the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels navigating shipping lanes through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

After the US Navy sank three Al Houthi boats on Sunday with the loss of 10 of its fighters, the spokesman for the White House National Security Council wouldn’t say what further actions the Biden administration was considering.

Grave implications

John Kirby told ABC’s “Good Morning America” the United States has made it clear to Al Houthis that “we take these threats seriously and we’re going to make the right decisions going forward.″

Lu, the US deputy ambassador, said Al Houthi attacks “pose grave implications for maritime security, international shipping and commerce” and it’s vital that the Security Council speak out now on the need to uphold international law and the right to freedom of navigation.

A US draft resolution circulated to council members after the open meeting and obtained by The Associated Press would condemn and demand an immediate halt to the Houthi attacks and recognize the right of any country to defend their merchant and naval vessels in accordance with international law.

Without mentioning Iran, the draft would also condemn “the provision of arms and related materiel of all types to the [Al] Houthis” in violation of UN resolutions. It would also call for all countries to implement the arms embargo on the Houthis and recall that the UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions “has found many Al Houthi weapons to be of Iranian origin.”

The US draft would underscore “the need to avoid further escalation of the situation.”

Calls to free ships

There was near unanimous condemnation of Al Houthi attacks in speeches Wednesday by the 15 council members, and many calls for the militant group to release the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship with links to an Israeli company that it seized on November19 along with its crew.

A statement issued later by the US, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom called for the immediate end of Houthi attacks and warned that further attacks would require collective action.

“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the 12 countries said.

On December 1, the Security Council issued a press statement condemning and demanding an immediate halt to Houthi attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea “in the strongest terms.”

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called on Houthi leaders to implement that statement and halt attacks, but he stressed that they must be seen as a response to the violence in Gaza “where Israel’s brutal operation has continued for three months now,” leading to escalating attacks in the West Bank and along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Russia sees two scenarios for the current Red Sea situation, he said.

The favourable one would be for the Security Council to redouble efforts to end the Yemen civil war and the violence in Gaza, Nebenzia said.

The “catastrophic” scenario is to escalate the use of force in the Red Sea — which he said the US and its allies are calling on the council to do — which risks derailing a settlement of the Yemen conflict and would create conditions “for igniting a new major conflict around at least the Arabian Peninsula” and a wider regional conflict.