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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 19 JANUARY 2024

Houthis vow to keep attacking Red Sea ships; Pakistan carries out strikes in Iran

Houthis vow to keep attacking Red Sea ships; Pakistan carries out strikes in Iran
People pass a billboard depicting US President Joe Biden (right), war-affected children of Gaza (centre) and a person (left) with an inscription reading in Arabic ‘What do you think of what Israel is doing? I am a Zionist and Israel does not kill innocents’ at a street in Sana’a, Yemen, on 17 January 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yahya Arhab)

Yemen’s Houthis vowed they would keep attacking ships in the Red Sea, even after the US launched a fourth round of missile strikes against them. 

The US launched more strikes on Yemen’s Houthis late on Wednesday night as the Iran-backed group continues to roil global shipping markets with attacks around the Red Sea.

Pakistan’s military carried out targeted strikes against separatist hideouts in Iran on Thursday, responding to an attack by Tehran a day earlier in a rare escalation of tensions that both sides signalled they didn’t want to see get worse.

Israel vows to control security in Gaza Strip after the war

Israel will insist on security control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the foreseeable future after the war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, rejecting rule by the Palestinian Authority despite calls from the US.

“This is a mandatory condition, and it contradicts the idea of sovereignty,” Netanyahu told journalists in a broadcast briefing Thursday. “Every piece of territory we leave becomes a place from which to launch terrible terrorism against us.”

Netanyahu said he told the US of his position and “put the brakes” on what he called efforts to force a reality on Israel that would only hurt the country.

“A prime minister of Israel must be able to say no — also to the closest of friends,” Netanyahu said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials have said a lasting peace wouldn’t be possible without an eventual state for Palestinians. “Israel must stop taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively,” Blinken said in Tel Aviv this month. 

Asked about Netanyahu’s comments, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Thursday in Washington that there was no way for Israel to solve its long-term challenges without establishing a Palestinian state.

“There is a historic opportunity that Israel has to deal with challenges that it has faced since its founding, and we hope the country will take that opportunity,” he said.

Houthis say they’re improving military might in defiance of US

Yemen’s Houthis vowed they would keep attacking ships in the Red Sea, even after the US launched a fourth round of missile strikes against them.

“It is an honour for our people to be in such a confrontation with these evil forces,” Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the head of the Iran-backed group, said in a televised speech on Thursday, citing the US, the UK and Israel. The Houthis were now in “direct confrontation” with all three and were taking steps to bolster their military capabilities, he said.

The Houthis have ramped up attacks on vessels in and around the southern Red Sea since mid-November, roiling shipping markets and sending freight costs higher. The group says its campaign is to support Hamas in its war against Israel in Gaza.

The Houthis have ignored repeated warnings from the West to stop. On 12 January, the US and UK launched the first of their strikes against them, targeting military airports, radar installations and storage and launch sites for drones and missiles.

US officials have said that while they don’t expect to deter the Houthis, they believe they are degrading the group’s ability to fire missiles and drones at ships. Still, this week the Houthis hit three more merchant vessels, including a US-owned commodities carrier on Wednesday evening. 

Al-Houthi’s remarks raise the prospect of a prolonged conflict in the region as the fallout from Israel’s war against Hamas worsens.

“Our maritime operations are having a very big impact and that’s what we want,” he said. 

Many shipping companies and energy firms are avoiding the Red Sea, which normally handles 12% of global seaborne trade. Plenty of vessels are instead taking the much longer journey to and from Europe by going around southern Africa.

Since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted in October, US bases have come under fire from Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria, and Tehran has struck targets in neighbouring countries. Hezbollah, one of the most powerful militias in the Middle East, has also engaged in cross-border fire with Israel.

Al-Houthi, whose group receives significant financial, military and intelligence support from Tehran and is eager to elevate its standing within Iran’s alliance of regional proxies, said the group wanted to be a “real pressure point” on the US and Israel.

The Palestinian cause is “one that we live by and die by,” he added.

US strikes Yemen again as Houthi shipping attacks continue

The US launched more strikes on Yemen’s Houthis late on Wednesday night as the Iran-backed group continues to roil global shipping markets with attacks around the Red Sea.

The American military targeted 14 Houthi missiles just before midnight Yemeni time. They were ready to be launched and presented “an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region,” Central Command said.

Yemeni media reported blasts in areas including the port city of Hodeida and the province of Saada near the border with Saudi Arabia. It was at least the fourth round of US-led strikes on Yemen since the first on 12 January.

It wasn’t immediately clear how extensive the damage was or whether there were casualties in the latest US response to the Houthis.  

Pakistan’s army strikes back at Iran as both sides urge calm

Pakistan’s military carried out targeted strikes against separatist hideouts in Iran on Thursday, responding to an attack by Tehran a day earlier in a rare escalation of tensions that both sides signalled they didn’t want to see get worse. 

Pakistan carried out morning strikes against “terrorist hideouts” in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The move followed Iran’s strikes against Jaish al-Adl, a separatist group based in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

“This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats,” the foreign ministry said in a statement explaining its retaliatory actions. As many as nine foreigners were killed in the strike, including four children, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency. 

The tit-for-tat response is the most significant escalation between the two neighbours, both allies of China who have had strained relations in the past. While the strikes come at a time of rising turmoil in the Middle East over the Israel-Hamas war, Pakistani and Iranian officials also moved to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

Israel calls on world to help free hostages held in Gaza

Israeli President Isaac Herzog called on the world to “work endlessly” to free the 136 Israeli and foreign hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. 

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Herzog showed the audience a picture of the youngest captive, Kfir Bibas, who was born exactly one year ago on Thursday. He was taken by Hamas during the 7 October attack on Israel, with his parents and his brother, the Israeli president said.

“We know that they are going through hell, and we don’t know their whereabouts,” he said.

Herzog travelled to the global conference with family members of Israeli hostages to step up pressure for their release. 

His appearance there was one of a series of events at the summit drawing greater attention to Israeli and Jewish concerns. They include a showing of a film of atrocities committed in Israel by Hamas on 7 October, a panel discussion with hostage family members and victims hosted by Palantir Technologies, and another panel on anti-Semitism with Doug Emhoff, the husband of US Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, killed 1,200 civilians and soldiers and kidnapped about 250 people during the 7 October attacks, including babies, children, and the elderly. About 120 hostages were released in a deal in which Israel freed Palestinian prisoners. 

The Hamas-run health ministry says that about 24,000 Gazans have been killed in the war with Israel that followed the 7 October attack, without Israeli forces differentiating between combatants and civilians. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

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  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    It has been made clear that the attacks are in retaliation to the war against Palestinians which is disguised as a war against Hamas, Israel Allies must make it clear they are fighting the war to assist Israel.
    A cease fire will stop this immediately and Israel allies can apply it by stoping the supply of weapons.
    Oh I forgot they already vetoed the ceasefire in the security council, what a great ethnic cleansing plan.
    All plans carry the element of backfiring.

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