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UK PM Sunak making a speech

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a visit to the MyPlace Youth Centre, in Mansfield, in the East Midlands, Britain January 4, 2024. Jacob King/Pool via REUTERS

Sunak Wants To Desculate Red Sea Tensions

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January 15, 2024

By Kitty Donaldson (Bloomberg) The UK wants a reduction of tensions in the Red Sea and that air strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen last week were “proportionate,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, adding there was no link to the Israel-Hamas war.

“A coalition of countries gave the Houthis a clear and unambiguous warning two weeks ago,” Sunak told Parliament on Monday. Any decision not to take action “would weaken international security and the rule of law, further damage freedom of navigation and the global economy, and send a dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game,” he said.

Sunak was addressing members of Parliament for the first time since the air strikes on Iran-backed Houthis, amid criticism from some lawmakers who said they should have been consulted before any military action. Still, despite some grumbling from the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party about keeping Parliament informed, the main opposition Labour Party said it supports the move, taking much of the political heat out of Sunak’s appearance.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said military action must be “underpinned by a clear strategy,” adding Parliament should “ask the right questions” particularly if Sunak wishes to carry out a sustained campaign. “Scrutiny is not the enemy of strategy,” he said. “Because while we back the action taken last week these strikes still do bring risk, we must avoid escalation across the Middle East.”

Houthi rebels have been attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden for weeks, in response to Israel’s war in Gaza. The attacks have disrupted global trade as many vessels have either paused transit through the Red Sea or decided to sail thousands of miles around Africa to avoid the dangerous waters. 

Sunak insisted the strikes on Houthi targets was in “self-defense” to protect British vessels. “We shouldn’t fall for their malign narrative that this is about Israel and Gaza,” Sunak added. “They target ships from around the world.” He also said all 13 of the planned targets in Yemen had been destroyed.

On Monday, United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which oversees Middle East waters, reported that missile fire had struck a ship in the Gulf of Aden, about 110 miles south-east of the southern Yemen border. Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain told reporters that the ship is “not a UK-flagged or linked vessel.”

The allied air strikes have prompted concern that Israel’s war with Hamas, which is also backed by Iran, will expand into a regional conflict. The UK has said it spoken to the Houthis and Iran about halting the attacks on vessels.

Earlier, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said there is “no precise recipe” for determining if the strikes will have deterred the Houthis. “We’re monitoring whether there are shipments or whether we detect intelligence and the rest of it,” he said on Monday. He told the BBC the UK will “look again” at further strikes against group if the attacks in the Red Sea do not stop.

Also Read: Biden Pushed Operation Prosperity Guardian Despite Strong Objections

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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