US coalition ship shoots down Houthi missile after lull in attacks

by Vern Evans

A warship in the U.S.-led coalition that defends shipping in Middle Eastern waters shot down a missile Wednesday, defending against the latest attack by the Houthi militant group that comes after a recent lull in the assaults.

The coalition vessel engaged one anti-ship ballistic missile over the Gulf of Aden that was launched by the Iran-backed group from Yemen, according to U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the region. There were no injuries or damage reported. Later in the day, U.S. forces also destroyed four aerial drones, it said, in Yemen.

The incident marks the end of a week-long absence of Houthi attacks confirmed by CENTCOM, one of the longest pauses in incidents launched by the Yemen-based group since their campaign of assaults against commercial and military ships began in the fall.

The latest missile “likely” targeted the American commercial ship M/V Yorktown, according to CENTCOM, which said a similar incident occurred earlier this month with the same merchant ship that led the Navy destroyer Mason to take action against an incoming missile.

Also this week, the Navy announced it is authorizing combat awards for sailors serving in the Red Sea area.

As to what led to the latest lack of aggression by the Houthis, experts told Military Times a few possibilities may explain, including deterrence by American air defense systems, a need by the militants to restock a dwindling arsenal and or the recent historic military escalation between Iran and Israel.

“Maybe they’re not able to replace their weapons as fast because the Iranians have their hands full elsewhere,” said Brent Sadler of the Heritage Foundation, who noted the Houthis are likely not done attempting attacks and encouraged President Joe Biden’s administration to provide a greater number of updates on the unfolding events in the Middle East.

James Holmes, a former surface warfare officer and director of maritime strategy at the Naval War College, told Military Times in a statement it may be that Tehran prevailed on the Houthi leadership to stand down rather than risk further havoc, which could escalate an already tense situation.

“I seriously doubt Iran has given up on its aims vis-a-vis Israel,” he said. “But it would not be outlandish to speculate that the leadership has decided a tactical pause is in its interests.”

Bradley Martin, a senior researcher at RAND Corp. and a retired surface warfare officer, concurred that the pause could be related to Iran potentially discouraging proxies from doing things directly provocative to the U.S. But, whether another brief respite, or a sustained stoppage, of the skirmishes in the Middle Eastern waters occurs remains to be seen.

“We will not speculate on any potential or future Houthi actions in the Red Sea region,” a defense official told Military Times this week.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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