A dozen nations, including the United States, on Wednesday warned the Houthi militia in Yemen of unspecified consequences if it continued attacking shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
“The Houthis will take responsibility for the consequences if they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and the free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the United States and its allies said. in a joint statement published by the White House. “We remain committed to the rules-based international order and are determined to hold malign actors accountable for illegal seizures and attacks.”
The statement did not elaborate on what actions could be taken. The allied nations that signed the declaration were Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Also on Wednesday, the United States accused Iran, which has supplied arms and intelligence to the Houthis, of direct and indirect involvement in the Red Sea attacks.
“We must not overlook the root of the problem: Iran has long enabled these Houthi attacks,” Christopher P. Lu, a member of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday. The city council did not take any action in this regard.
“We also know that Iran has been deeply involved in planning operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” Ambassador Lu added.
The Houthis, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, are backed by Iran, and together with Iran and Syria form what has been called the “axis of resistance” to Israel and the United States. After years of a long civil war in Yemen against a government backed by Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally that is often at odds with Iran, the Houthis exercise de facto control over most of northern Yemen.
Since the war between Israel and Hamas began nearly three months ago, Hezbollah has stepped up rocket attacks on northern Israel and drones and missiles have been launched from Yemen toward Israel, raising fears of a broader regional war.
The Houthis have also repeatedly fired on commercial ships heading to and from the Suez Canal, more than 20 times, Ambassador Lu said. The statement from the United States and its allies cited “attacks on vessels, including commercial vessels, using unmanned aerial vehicles, small boats, and missiles, including the first use of anti-ship ballistic missiles against such vessels.”
On November 19, the Houthis seized a cargo ship and its crew: the British-owned and Japanese-operated Galaxy Leader. The militia is still holding them.
Houthi attacks have damaged several ships but have not sunk any. On Sunday, U.S. forces patrolling the region sank three Houthi ships that authorities said had attacked a commercial ship and Americans coming to its aid.
“We remain incredibly concerned, as we have been since the beginning of this conflict, about the risk of the conflict spilling over to other fronts,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Wednesday.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday that China wanted security in the Red Sea. But he did not directly respond to a question about why China had not signed the joint statement issued by the United States and 11 of its allies.
“China has always advocated maintaining the security of international waterways and opposed attacks on civilian ships,” Wang said.
Normally, 15 percent of world trade passes through the Red Sea-Suez route, Arsenio Dominguez, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, an arm of the UN, told the Security Council.
But many shipping companies have stopped using that passage and instead send ships around the southern tip of Africa. Dominguez said taking that route adds 10 days to travel, slowing trade and raising prices around the world.
Keith Bradsher and Siyi Zhao contributed with reports.