• Tension: U.S. sinks three Houthi boats that had attacked its forces in the Red Sea

The British government has threatened "direct action" against Yemen's Houthi rebels following recent attacks on ships in the Red Sea. Hours after the U.S. military confirmed the destruction of four ships manned by insurgents that attacked the Singapore-flagged container ship Maersk Hangzhou, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps issued a stark warning in the pages of The Daily Telegraph, stressing that London is considering responding with "air strikes" to future aggression.

"The Houthis must not jump to the wrong conclusions: we are committed to responding to the malign actors who are committing the unlawful attacks," Shapps warned. "If continued aggression in the Red Sea risks escalation that can trigger a regional conflict."

The British defence secretary said that the situation in the Middle East "is a test for the international community" and reiterated the UK's willingness "to close ranks with our allies". A failure to ensure the "protection" of the Red Sea, Shapps said, would serve to "embolden" other powers that "seek to create tensions in places like the South China Sea and Crimea" (in veiled mention of the situation in Taiwan and the war in Ukraine).

The British government has contributed to the newly created coalition to ensure naval security in the Red Sea with the destroyer HMS Diamond, which has been patrolling the area since December and even neutralized a drone attack. Shapps' statements are interpreted as a foretaste of a more forceful position when it comes to defending the security of the Bab El Mandeb Strait, through which up to 12% of the world's maritime trade flows.

In reaction to Israel's military offensive on Gaza, in response to attacks launched by Hamas on October 7, the Houthi rebels (who have been involved in Yemen's civil war since 2015, with the support of Iran and against the Saudi-led intervention) have launched attacks on ships bound for Israeli ports.

"Military moves to protect Israeli ships will not prevent us from fulfilling our religious, moral and humanitarian duty in support of the oppressed in Palestine," Yahya Sarea, a spokesman for the Houthi rebels, said on Sunday, confirming the death of 10 members of its ranks in the confrontation "with the American enemy."

The British government was quick to align itself with Washington in the face of the end-of-year incident and has anticipated that it "will not hesitate to take further action to end threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea".

Foreign Secretary David Cameron took aim at Iran after a telephone conversation with his namesake Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Sunday. "I have made it clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing such attacks, given its long-standing support for the Houthis," Cameron said.

"The situation in the Red Sea is incredibly serious, and the Houthi attacks are unacceptable and destabilising," a Downing Street spokesman said. "We are working on a variety of scenarios, no decision has yet been made and we will continue to pursue diplomatic routes."

"We call on the Iranian-backed Houthis to cease the unlawful attacks," the spokesman added. "We will continue to work with the United States and our allies to protect freedom of navigation."

  • Iran
  • David Cameron
  • Ministry of Defence
  • London
  • Yemen
  • Palestine
  • Hamas
  • United States
  • Israel
  • United Kingdom
  • Beaches