Italian warship forced to shoot down Houthi missile in Red Sea

    WORLD  04 March 2024 - 17:37

    An Italian warship participating in the EU naval protection force in the Red Sea was forced to shoot down a Houthi missile on Saturday in a rare engagement by the country’s navy, which has largely avoided direct action since the Second World War.

    The incident came as Houthi officials vowed to continue to attack British ships after the UK-owned Rubymar sank on March 2 having taken on water for a fortnight after being hit by one of the group’s missiles, according to The Guardian.

    The Italian intervention came as politicians from the UN-recognised Yemeni government based in Aden travelled to London to lobby the Foreign Office to recognise that the months of Houthi attacks must end the possibility of any peace agreement in which the group plays a part in a future coalition government.

    The destroyer Caio Duilio waited until the missile was within four miles (6km) before firing on it.

    Italy is part of Operation Aspides, launched on 19 February, which seeks to ensure freedom of navigation. It has a defensive mandate and is separate from the US-UK Operation Prosperity Guardian, which has attacked Yemeni targets and missile launchers on land.

    Houthi officials said: “Italy jeopardises the safety of its military and commercial ships. We will strike the ships that attack our country or that hinder the decision to prevent Israeli ships from crossing the Red Sea.”

    Houthi drones have also attacked the German frigate Hessen and last week the French frigate Languedoc, making it increasingly hard for western powers to know whether any of their shipping or protection forces are safe.

    About a third of Italy’s seaborne exports go through the Suez Canal, so Rome has a direct commercial interest in securing freedom of navigation. Italian politicians have not yet fully sanctioned the country’s role in the Red Sea, but are expected to start to do so next week.

    Italy has been fully active in Nato and UN peace keeping missions, but its postwar constitution has restrictions on the deployment of armed forces.

    The Houthis claim they are acting in solidarity with the people of Gaza, and that the attacks will stop as soon as Hamas accepts Israel’s ceasefire terms.

    Celebrating the sinking of the Rubymar, the first since the Houthis launched their campaign, Hussein al-Ezzi, the deputy foreign minister in the Houthi-led government in Sana’a, said: “Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damage will be added to Britain’s bill.”

    He said Britain “is a rogue state attacking Yemen and collaborating with America in sponsoring ongoing crimes against civilians in Gaza”.

    The Rubymar sank after being hit by an anti-ship ballistic missile launched on 18 February.

    Mohammed Albasha, a Middle East analyst at the Navanti Group, a geo-security organisation, said the release of large quantities of fertilisers into the Red Sea could cause eutrophication, depleting the water of oxygen and creating “dead zones”.

    Marine life, including fish populations, coral reefs and other aquatic organisms, are likely to suffer as a result of the toxic chemicals and reduced oxygen levels, he said. Fishing communities along Yemen’s Red Sea coast in Hodeidah and Taiz would see reduced catches and damaged livelihoods, he added.

    Speaking at the Chatham House thinktank, Gen Tareq Saleh, the vice-chair of the presidential leadership council (PLC), the executive of the Aden-based government, insisted that the Houthi attacks had been prepared for years, evidenced by the quantity of missiles, as part of Iran’s longstanding desire to control the Red Sea.

    He claimed the Palestinian cause has been Yemen’s since the 1962 revolution. “The Iranians and Houthis are trying to hijack this file from the Arabs,” he said. The crisis in the Red Sea would not end with peace in Gaza, he predicted.

    Caliber.Az

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