In a statement broadcast by the Houthi-run Al-Maseera television channel, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi declared that the U.S. missile strike had been intended to “pave the way for an aggressive operation targeting Al-Hodeida”.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military had struck three Houthi radar platforms deployed on Yemen’s Red Sea coast with cruise missiles.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, the missile strikes were in retaliation for two failed rocket attacks — allegedly carried out by Houthis militiamen — on a U.S. naval vessel earlier in the week.
Houthi officials believe that Thursday’s missile strikes presage an imminent military operation by the U.S. — in coordination with a Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition — aimed at establishing control over Al-Hodeida, which commands more than half of Yemen’s Red Sea coastline.
Yemen’s pro-Houthi SABA news agency, for its part, quoted a senior Houthi political figure as saying that the group was now bracing for an anticipated U.S. military assault on Houthi-held parts of the country.
The political figure, whose name was not given, asserted that Thursday’s cruise missile strike was being regarded as the opening salvo in “direct U.S. military intervention in Yemen’s coastal area aimed at securing control of the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait”.
The same source reasserted that neither Houthi forces nor those of their allies had been responsible for the recent targeting of any U.S. naval vessels operating in the region.
On Thursday, Houthi military spokesman Sharaf Luqman stressed the group’s “total readiness” to cooperate with any investigation — by the UN or any neutral third party — aimed at determining the party responsible for firing on the U.S. naval vessel earlier this week.
In the immediate wake of Thursday’s U.S. cruise missile strike, Iran — which backs Yemen’s Houthis — sent two warships to the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to “maintain maritime security”, according to Iranian media reports.
“The Iranian navy dispatched a fleet consisting of one destroyer and one support ship to the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al-Mandeb,” Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Thursday evening.
A narrow body of water linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the Bab al-Mandeb separates the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
The vessels, the news agency reported, had been deployed to the strategic waterway in order to “protect Iranian commercial vessels from pirate attacks”.
Thursday’s U.S. cruise missile strike was the first incident of its kind since the Yemen conflict erupted in late 2014, when the Houthis overran capital Sanaa and other parts of the country, forcing Yemen’s Saudi-backed government to temporarily flee to Riyadh.
In March of last year, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a massive military campaign aimed at reversing Houthi gains in Yemen and restoring the country’s embattled government.
Backed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, pro-government forces have since managed to reclaim some of the country’s south — including the coastal city of Aden — but have failed to retake Sanaa and other strategic areas.