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Iran Denies Role In Red Sea Hostilities As Houthis In Crosshairs

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While the UK is preparing for direct strikes against Iran-backed Houthis, who are attacking and hijacking ships in the Red Sea, Tehran denies any involvement. 

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Monday, “Recent movements by the United States and the United Kingdom in the Red Sea threaten the security of the region.” 

The Times reported on Monday that the UK military is gearing up for a series of airstrikes against Yemen’s Houthis. The plan involves collaboration with the US and potentially another European country to launch a barrage of missiles at predetermined targets, either in the sea or within Yemen, where the militants are based. 

According to British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps, “If the Houthis continue to threaten lives and trade, we will be forced to take the necessary and appropriate action.” Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Shapps said the UK is “willing to take direct action” and “won’t hesitate to take further action to deter threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.”

The Times said the UK and US are about to issue an ultimatum against attacking commercial vessels, citing a UK government source as saying that the statement would be a “last warning” and if the Houthis failed to stop the attacks, the response would likely be “limited” but “significant”.

Also on Sunday, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he had a phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian about the attacks in the Red Sea, “which threaten innocent lives and the global economy.” Cameron said he made clear to his counterpart that “Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks, given their long-standing support to the Houthis.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron during a press conference, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Cairo, Egypt, December 21, 2023.

Iran’s state media quoted Amir-Abdollahian as saying, “The Israeli regime cannot be allowed to commit massacres of women and children and genocide in Gaza and set the region on fire, while the stopping of a Zionist ship in the Red Sea is seen as endangering the security of this economic waterway.” No official readout of the call was released to the media. 

During his Monday press conference, Kanaani again denied Tehran’s role in the attacks, despite saying that such accusations by the UK lack substance because the UK has a clear role in the Middle East’s long standing crisis. Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that the Islamic Republic should continue its support for the “Resistance Front”, referring to the regime’s proxies.

Since the Gaza war broke out on October 7, sparked by Hamas’s invasion of Israel, Iran’s Yemeni proxy announced it would be joining the war on Israel in a bid to force a ceasefire amid Israel’s relentless retaliatory attacks. Missiles and drones have been targeting Israeli soil as well as international shipping and US interests. Following the US support of Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the October 7 attacks, which saw 1,200 mostly civilians murdered and 240 or more taken hostage, the US has come under further attacks in Iraq and Syria.

The Galaxy Leader cargo ship is escorted by Houthi boats in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023.

The escalation in the maritime route which accounts for around 12 percent of global trade and oil, connecting Asia to Europe, has led the US to form a more than 20-member international coalition in the face of the aggression, Operation Prosperity Guardian. Several shipping companies have either ceased activity or taken longer routes, causing major delays and costs to journeys.

According to The Times, eight of the 20 ships attacked in the 30 days before Christmas were either UK-registered, had British citizens in their crew or carried goods for the UK.

As the UK and the US reportedly attempt to persuade other European countries to collaborate in forthcoming operations to secure the Red Sea, one of the world’s most crucial maritime trade routes, Khamenei’s mouthpiece, the hardliner Kayhan daily proudly proclaimed the success of their “resistance doctrine” on Monday. The paper proclaimed that the region has been transformed and “Soleimanicized”, referring to the slain IRGC-Quds force commander seen as the architect of Iran’s network of proxy militias.