Biden Administration Elects Not To Respond To Houthi Attacks

In the ever-increasing tension in the Middle East, the Biden administration has been faced with a critical decision in the last week regarding an appropriate response to recent attacks by Houthi rebels on a U.S. warship and commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The White House has, for now, appeared to have decided on a nuanced approach that avoids a direct military response.

The Iranian regime directly supports the Houthi rebels operating out of Yemen, and the group has intensified its aggression in the region since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Last weekend, the group launched drone and missile attacks against several ships. The USN destroyer USS Carney responded by shooting down three drones. The measured response was pointed to defending against the assault without calling for a counterstrike.

Reports indicate that U.S. military officials have been preparing and evaluating countermeasures this week that could be deployed against the Houthis. However, the public-facing response has been aimed at non-military responses

The administration is focused on maintaining the region’s intricate and fragile balance of power. Particular attention is being paid to maintaining a delicate peace process in Yemen amid that nation’s long-running civil war. The situation in Yemen also directly implicates the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and handling of the explosive situation in Gaza.

Military experts have said that any decision regarding the Houthis is fraught with risk. A direct military counterstrike could quickly escalate the conflict in the region involving multiple parties and crush hopes for a diplomatic resolution. Those concerns appear to be paramount at this time for the Pentagon and the National Security Council. 

The cautious approach is unfortunately not of much comfort to the sailors on the ships in the area who are on high alert, watching for radar tracks of incoming drones and missiles. Our forces must be prepared to respond to immediate threats at every moment.

As the U.S. has also said it intends to ensure free navigation of the international waters in the Middle East, the International Maritime Security Construct has issued a warning for all vessels in the Red Sea. All ships have been warned to take routes of passage as far as possible from Yemeni waters. The warning also advises night travel and continuous movement, so ships will not be easy targets.

The approach seen so far this week from the White House reflects a deliberate effort to safeguard U.S. interests while avoiding further destabilization in a volatile region. Under any circumstances, the situation as it has existed since early October is uncertain, and any decision could play out unexpectedly.

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