The United States launched dozens of raids across the Middle East over the weekend as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken headed to the region to advance negotiations to secure the release of Israelis still being held hostage in Gaza and bring in more humanitarian aid. in the abused pockets.
The latest strike came on Sunday in Yemen, where the US military said it destroyed an anti-ship cruise missile belonging to Houthi fighters that posed “an immediate threat to US naval vessels and commercial vessels in the area”.
It was the third U.S. military action against Iranian-backed militias in as many days: The United States led strikes on Saturday against 36 Houthi targets in northern Yemen and on Friday carried out airstrikes on more than 85 targets in Syria and Iraq.
US officials insist the strikes have been carefully calibrated to avoid starting an open confrontation with Iran and say they have degraded the militias’ ability to attack US forces.
But all the militias remain formidable Iranian proxies, especially the heavily armed Houthis in Yemen, and strikes against them risked escalating hostilities that President Biden has sought to avoid since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in October . .
On a four-day trip, Mr. Blinken is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank. His goal is in part to “continue to work to prevent the conflict from spreading,” said Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman.
Secretary of State Mr Miller also said he would “continue discussions with partners on how to create a more integrated, peaceful region that includes lasting security for both Israelis and Palestinians”.
The more immediate goal, however, is to secure a deal that would include the release of more than 100 people kidnapped in the October 7 attack on Hamas-led Israel and a humanitarian pause in the conflict to allow aid to be delivered to civilians in Gaza.
Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, said on Sunday that ensuring more aid was given to civilians in Gaza would be a “top priority” for Mr Blinken on his trip, including meetings with the Israeli government. “We want to make sure they have access to life-saving food, medicine, water, shelter, and we’re going to keep pushing until that happens,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The trip is Mr Blinken’s fifth to the region since the war began. His French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné, was also embarking on a tour of the Middle East, making his first stop on Sunday in Egypt.
Friday’s strikes were largely in retaliation for a drone attack by an Iranian-backed militia that killed three American soldiers in Jordan on January 28. US officials have since insisted that there was no discussion with Tehran or a tacit agreement to avoid striking Iran directly. And on Sunday they warned of more.
“The president was clear when he ordered them and when he conducted them that this was the beginning of our response and there will be more steps,” Mr. Sullivan, the national security adviser, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “
Mr Sullivan said he did not want to “wire our fists” by revealing details of future actions. But he said the goal was to punish those targeting Americans without starting a direct confrontation with Iran.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanaani, condemned the US strikes in Yemen, saying in a statement that they were “triggering chaos, unrest, insecurity and instability” in the region.
The expectation is that the strikes will prompt Iran to back down, fearing they will risk a shooting war with a much larger force. But what its proxies — all of whom depend on Tehran for money, weapons and information — might do is much harder to predict.
This is especially true for the Houthis, who control parts of Yemen and have continued their attacks on ships in the Red Sea since late last year, despite US and British strikes.
Neither US nor Arab officials believe the Houthis’ capabilities have been significantly diminished by the campaign, and the militants have vowed to continue targeting ships in the Red Sea, linking their fight to the Palestinian fight against Israel in Gaza. Their attacks have disrupted the commercial shipping industry, forcing many ships to take long detours around the southern tip of Africa.
Dealing with the Houthis is “like fighting the fog,” said Yoel Guzansky, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Even a determined effort to root out their stocks would take years, he warned. “They have a lot of light weapons that are easy to hide and hard to find,” he said.
The report was made by Aaron Boxerman, Michael D. Shear, David E. Sanger and Farnaz Fashihi.