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The US said Iran was “deeply involved” in planning Houthi attacks on commercial vessels sailing through the Red Sea and warned Tehran of a possible response amid an increased threat to shipping through a sea route critical to global trade.
Citing declassified intelligence, the White House said Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen are relying on “Iranian-provided surveillance systems” to launch attacks on commercial shipping.
“We know that Iran has been deeply involved in the planning of operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on Friday.
“Tactical intelligence provided by Iran has been critical in enabling the Houthis to target naval vessels since the group launched attacks in November.”
The Biden administration also said it was considering further action in response to the Houthi attacks, which have raised concerns that the war between Israel and Hamas could spread to other Middle Eastern countries and draw in the US.
US officials said they had not ruled out strikes on Houthi targets in response to the attacks, which began in November, although White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby warned this week that the US would not “telegraph any strikes”.
The U.S. has sent two carrier strike groups to the region since Oct. 7 and has deployed hundreds of additional troops to the Middle East since the war began.
“We are engaging in intensive consultations with partners and allies on response options because this is an important issue for the international community,” Watson said on Friday.
Houthi officials said earlier this week that they would continue to target ships sailing near Yemen as long as Israel continued its war with Hamas.
The Houthis have targeted at least 15 vessels since November 18 in what they say is retaliation for Israel's campaign in Gaza – although some of the vessels have had little or no recent connection to Israel.
Vast numbers of vessels began diverting from the Red Sea since the attacks began, choosing to make the 3,200-mile round trip to Africa rather than face the threat of an attack.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced a multinational task force called Operation Prosperity Guardian, which will see naval vessels and other assets provide a shield against Houthi drone and missile attacks.
The US has said that Iran has provided the Houthis with financial support for their operations and that the militants have used Iranian-style tactics in some of their operations, such as when they seized the Galaxy Leader vehicle carrier last month.
“The Houthis are mimicking Iran's long-standing strategy of seizing civilian vessels at maritime choke points, as well as the specific tactics Iran used to include ferrying hijackers onto the vessel from helicopters with small boats providing security during the seizure of the Galaxy Leader in November,” Watson said .
The Houthis also reportedly used Iranian KAS-04 drones, including some that were shot down by the US destroyer USS Carney earlier this week, Watson said. The United States conducted a visual analysis showing “nearly identical features” shared by Iranian drones and those used by the Houthis in recent attacks, she said.
The U.S. said it also has intelligence indicating the Houthis have fired Iranian intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Yemen at Israel, as well as missiles that recently landed near a U.S. destroyer. The Houthis have used additional Iranian missiles to attack commercial shipping, Watson said.
“Iran's support for these Houthi operations remains critical.”