The White House slammed the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for threatening critical shipping lanes with their rocket attack on an oil tanker Tuesday off of Yemen’s key port city Al Hudaydah.
The attack on the Saudi tanker happened at about 1:30 p.m. local time in international waters. The Saudis said the ship sustained “a slight but ineffective hit,” with no crew members injured, before moving on its way toward the Red Sea with a warship escort.
The Houthis claimed they “targeted a battleship belonging to the coalition” in revenge for a Monday airstrike in Al Hudaydah that killed several civilians.
Saudi-led Arab coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki told reporters that there are deeper fears for maritime traffic in the Bab Al-Mandab strait, including threats of boats laden with explosives targeting vessels in the busy waterway.
The official Saudi Press Agency said Al-Maliki vowed that the coalition “will continue taking the necessary measures and means to keep the security and stability of the region, and the continuation of the freedom of regional and international navigation in the Red Sea and Bab-Al-Mandab strait, as part of its commitment to make Yemen a safe and secure place.”
A statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the United States “is very concerned about the Houthis’ latest attempt to escalate the war in Yemen, this time by attacking a commercial vessel while it transited one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the Bab al-Mandab, in international waters.”
“A significant portion of global trade moves through the Bab al-Mandab every day, including key energy and food supplies. In January, the Houthis publicly threatened to attack international commercial maritime traffic in the Red Sea, and launched this attack near the vital port of Hudaydah,” Sanders said.
“Yesterday’s attack coincides with the UN’s High-Level Pledging Event in Geneva, where the Saudi-led Coalition’s contributed $930 million,” she added. “In contrast, the Iranian regime continues to perpetuate the conflict and provide destabilizing weapons to the Houthis. We call on the Houthis to cease further escalation and demonstrate their commitment to a peace process by engaging in constructive dialogue.”
President Trump called Saudi King Salman on Tuesday, the White House said, in which Trump “emphasized the importance of resolving the Gulf dispute and restoring a united Gulf Cooperation Council to counter Iranian malign influence and defeat terrorists and extremists.”
Following the tanker attack, Saudi Arabia sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council asking that the port be placed under international supervision as they try to protect international navigation through the strait and the Red Sea.