The sequence of events becomes predictable. The Houthis claimed responsibility, early Friday, January 19, for strikes against an American ship circulating in the Gulf of Aden, near the Red Sea, a few hours after bombings by Washington on sites of these Yemeni rebels on their territory.

“The naval forces of the Yemeni armed forces [the name given to the armed wing of the Houthis] carried out a targeted operation against an American ship, the Chem Ranger, in the Gulf of Aden with several anti-ship missiles, several of which hit their target” , they announced in a press release. “A response to American and British attacks is inevitable, any further aggression will be punished,” warned the Yemeni rebels, saying they only target ships heading to Israel “as long as there is no ceasefire and the siege will not be lifted on Gaza.”

According to the specialist site Marine Traffic, the Chem Ranger is an oil tanker flying the flag of the Marshall Islands – a state of Micronesia, in Oceania – which has been off the coast of Yemen in recent days. For its part, the British Maritime Safety Agency (UKMTO) reported an incident 115 nautical miles southeast of the Yemeni city of Aden with an explosion 30 meters from a ship.

“Coalition forces are responding, the crew is safe and the ship is heading to the next port,” said the British agency, which also reported four unidentified drones flying around a merchant ship more to the East.

Moscow calls on Washington to stop “aggression” against Yemen

For its part, the United States struck, a little earlier, for the fifth time Houthi sites in Yemen, in response to attacks by this group supported by Iran against merchant ships in the Red Sea, a crucial area for international commerce.

According to the US Joint Middle East Command (Centcom), the United States destroyed “two anti-ship missiles aimed at the Red Sea” on Thursday afternoon. “We believe they were ready for imminent launch into the Red Sea,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, Sabrina Singh, said that these bombings, which began at the end of last week and sometimes carried out with the United Kingdom, could have “destroyed a significant part of the capabilities” of the Yemeni rebels.

US President Joe Biden said this week that the strikes would continue as long as the Houthis disrupt international maritime trade off Yemen. In Moscow, however, the Russian foreign minister called on the United States to stop its “aggression” against Yemen. “The more the Americans and the British bomb, the less the Houthis will want to parley,” Sergei Lavrov said.

The American bombings on Thursday afternoon were the second in less than twenty-four hours on missiles from the Houthis, a group put back on Wednesday by Washington on one of its lists of “terrorist organizations”. This Iranian-backed organization has attacked dozens of merchant ships believed to be “linked to Israel” in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since the start of the war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in the Strip. Gaza.

These attacks, which the Houthis say they are carrying out in “solidarity” with the population of this Palestinian territory under the control of their Hamas allies and ravaged by war, have forced many shipowners to suspend the passage of their fleets through the Red Sea for reroute around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope, increasing the time and cost of shipping.

Denmark joins the coalition

Faced with these attacks, the United States set up a coalition to patrol off the coast of Yemen and protect maritime traffic. Not all the countries in this coalition are participating in the strikes but Denmark, cradle of the number two in world shipping, Maersk, announced Thursday that it would join.

France has decided not to participate “to avoid any escalation” in the region, according to its president Emmanuel Macron. Because these attacks on ships and the American strikes in response raise fears of a risk of conflagration in the Middle East, while the war in Gaza is already having repercussions in Lebanon and in the north of Israel, where clashes are almost -daily conversations between pro-Iranian Hezbollah and the Israeli army.

The Houthis have occupied a large part of Yemen since 2014 and the capture of the capital Saana, from which they expelled the government in place, which took refuge in the southern part of the country. In 2015, a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to support the Yemeni army and government.