US State Department Releases Statement on Continued Houthi Attacks

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What to Know:

The United States State Department has released a statement condemning continued Houthi attacks against commercial shipping vessels in the region, raising concerns over economic, environmental, and humanitarian impacts.

The Statement:

A press release by State Department Spokesman Matt Miller stated that “The United States condemns the reckless and indiscriminate attacks on civilian cargo ships by the Houthis,” adding that “The Houthis are behaving like a terrorist organization – attacking civilians, civilian shipping, and innocent mariners, and they continue to detain the crew of the Galaxy Leader, consisting of 25 people from five different countries. This is piracy.”

  • NOTE: On January 17, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced that the United States had re-designated the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, stating that “Over the past months, Yemen-based Houthi militants have engaged in unprecedented attacks against United States military forces and international maritime vessels operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” adding that “These attacks fit the textbook definition of terrorism.” The designation, however, did not go into effect until February 27.

Miller also stated that the “Houthis’ attacks are driving up prices and causing delivery delays in critical humanitarian items, such as food and medicine in places where it’s needed most. This is adversely affecting those in need of assistance around the world, including in Sudan, Ethiopia, and in Yemen itself. Many of the ships that the Houthis have attacked contained food, such as grain and corn, headed for those countries. And contrary to what the Houthis may attempt to claim, their attacks do nothing to help the Palestinians. Their actions are not bringing a single morsel of assistance or food to the Palestinian people.”

  • NOTE: According to the Associated Press, citing the the freight booking platform Freightos, the “cost of shipping a standard 40-foot container from Asia to northern Europe has surged from less than $1,500 in mid-December to nearly $5,500 in January 2024. Getting Asian cargoes to the Mediterranean is even costlier: almost $6,800, up from $2,400 in mid-December.”

Miller went on to say that the Houthis “continue to demonstrate disregard to the Yemeni people,” citing an attack against a commercial vessel on February 16 that risked “spillage of fertilizer and fuel into the sea and threatening Yemen’s fishing industry.” Likewise, he mentioned the recent attack against the US-owned bulk carrier M/V Sea Champion, which was targeted by Houthi missiles while delivering grain and other food supplies to the Yemeni port of Aden, marking its 11th aid delivery in recent years.

“The United States has taken pains to ensure that our sanctions and other actions to impose costs on the Houthis do not restrict commercial shipments or humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. The Houthis actions, in contrast, are preventing the delivery of food and essential items on which the Yemeni people rely and making it difficult for humanitarians to do their essential work, endangering an already fragile humanitarian situation.”

  • NOTE: During Sullivan’s statement on the Houthi terror designation, he went on to say that the United States is “rolling out unprecedented carve outs and licenses to help prevent adverse impacts on the Yemeni people.  The people of Yemen should not pay the price for the actions of the Houthis.   We are sending a clear message: commercial shipments into Yemeni ports on which the Yemeni people rely for food, medicine and fuel should continue and are not covered by our sanctions.  This is in addition to the carveouts we include in all sanctions programs for food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance,”

The statement concluded by saying that the Houthis are “alienating the world community and putting the peace process in Yemen – which parties, including the Houthis, have painstakingly negotiated over the last two years – in jeopardy.” Miller added that the United States “has been very clear that we do not want conflict in the Red Sea,” but “will continue to take appropriate action, as needed, to protect freedom of navigation and commercial shipping from Houthi attacks in this critical international waterway and to safeguard vital economic and humanitarian assistance to countries in the region.”

Houthi Motivations:

The Houthis have maintained that their intent is to target any vessel associated with Israel, whether it be its owner, operator, or recent port of call, adding that attacks “will not stop until the aggression stops and the siege imposed on the steadfast Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted.” Likewise, the Houthis have increased the targeting of American and British-operated vessels in response to strikes in Yemen.

The Houthis’ ultimate goal is to apply economic pressure to Israel and countries they believe are aiding Israeli military operations in Gaza by disrupting commercial shipping through the Red Sea, which ultimately impacts shipping heading through the Suez Canal to Europe and North America.

Roughly 12 percent of all traded goods, worth an estimated $1 trillion, pass through the Suez Canal annually. Several major shipping companies have suspended operations in the region, citing security concerns, and have opted to re-route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, extending voyage times by about two weeks and, in turn, increasing freight rates that can impact prices on the consumer end.