On Saturday the Pentagon conducted yet another round of airstrikes on Houthi positions in Yemen, which marks likely the seventh round of such Western coalition attacks. It follows a round of strikes the day prior.
Even after this steady progression of escalation, which comes in response to near daily Houthi attacks on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea, the Pentagon still says the US government does not believe it is at war in Yemen. It was only on Thursday that President Biden issued a surprise admission, saying that the bombing is not working, yet it will continue anyway. The comments to the media included Biden responding when asked whether the strikes are deterring Houthi aggression: "Well, when you say ‘working’ — are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes," the president said.
And now the US administration is mulling bigger escalation, though it remains anything but clear whether the Houthis will actually halt their war on Red Sea shipping, given also Israel is persisting in its Gaza operation.
According to fresh reporting in Bloomberg, "The US and the UK are exploring ways to step up their campaign against Houthi militants in Yemen without provoking a broader war, with a focus on targeting Iranian resupplies and launching more aggressive pre-emptive strikes, people familiar with the matter said."
But the fear is that it would put Washington on a collision course with Iran. Already there are widespread allegations that Iran has elite IRGC operatives on the ground advising the Houthis. The US has also accused Tehran of giving the Yemeni rebels intelligence information to help with targeting. The White House says it doesn't want a wider war in the Middle East.
Bloomberg, based on administration sources, said that an internal debate is raging over the course of action:
The people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations, said the US and UK are examining ways to better disrupt Iranian efforts to resupply the Houthis at sea, especially given that it will be harder to sever land routes. A British official echoed that argument, saying officials are weighing various types of military operations to disrupt Iranian weapons flows to the Houthis.
Advocates for more aggressive action also argue that the time is ripe because of what they see as an emerging Iranian weakness. People familiar with the US stance say that the leadership in Iran may have overextended itself with its support for the Houthis along with launching attacks in Pakistan and Iraq, and may not respond to further escalation.
The US Navy last week intercepted a dhow in the Arabian Sea, off Somalia, that looked "suspicious". It was found to have been transporting Iranian-made missile components, and was believed bound for Houthi territory.
Tragically, the operation wasn't without a cost, as two Navy Seals were lost at sea, and are presumed dead, as search and rescue efforts have persisted for many days.
Iran's allies in the Middle East are seeking to pressure US troops out of the region....
⚡️BREAKING— Iran Observer (@IranObserver0) January 20, 2024
In an unprecedented move, Iraq has refused the entry of additional US forces into its territory.
The start of negotiations to remove US forces are imminent, says Iraqi army spokesman pic.twitter.com/XAp8iYxr88
Israel itself appears to be stepping up its anti-Iran intervention in Syria, on Saturday striking a Damascus suburb. Iran later confirmed that several high-ranking IRGC officers were killed. Tehran is vowing revenge, and things are set to get even more chaotic in the region in the coming days.