US strikes Houthi targets, one of several attacks in Middle East

“We’re not looking for a war; we’re not looking to expand this,” John F. Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, told reporters Tuesday, adding, “We will continue to defend against them and counter them as appropriate.”

The strike was one of a series of attacks launched by an array of adversaries.

— Palestinian militants launched at least 25 rockets, damaging an Israeli store in one of the strongest bombardments in more than a week. Israel’s Channel 12 television said the rockets were launched from the Bureij camp in central Gaza.

— Iran fired missiles late Monday at what it said were Israeli “spy headquarters” in an upscale neighborhood near the sprawling US Consulate in Irbil, the seat of Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Iraq and the United States condemned the strikes, which killed several civilians, and Baghdad recalled its ambassador to Iran in protest. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have carried out dozens of attacks on bases housing US forces, and a US airstrike in Baghdad killed an Iranian-backed militia leader earlier this month.

— Iran also launched attacks in Pakistan targeting what it described as bases for the militant group Jaish al-Adl. Pakistan said the strikes killed two children and wounded three others in an assault it described as an “unprovoked violation” of its airspace. The attack inside of nuclear-armed Pakistan by Iran threatens the relations between the two countries, which long have eyed each other with suspicion while maintaining diplomatic relations.

The inability to ensure safe passage for vessels in the Red Sea has bedeviled the Biden administration. The president could order another blitz of strikes against Houthi air defenses, weapons depots, and facilities for launching and producing an array of missiles and drones, but analysts say that would risk widening the war even more. Or he could settle for more limited tit-for-tat exchanges, like Tuesday’s strike, but that would not necessarily resolve the threat to commercial ships, analysts say.

Neither approach has fazed the Houthis. Vowing solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the group’s leaders have said they will continue their attacks in what they say is a protest against Israel’s military campaign in the territory.

A confidential Pentagon analysis of the first barrage against the rebels suggested it had a limited effect. While the US-led strikes damaged or destroyed about 90 percent of the targets that were struck, the Houthis retained about three-quarters of their ability to fire missiles and drones at ships, two US officials said Saturday.

The damage estimates are the first detailed assessments of the strikes against nearly 30 locations in Yemen last week. They reveal the serious challenges the Biden administration and its allies face as they try to deter the Houthis from retaliating, secure critical shipping routes between Europe and Asia, and contain the spread of regional conflict.

“There’s a limited amount you can do with just an air campaign,” said Adam Clements, a retired US Army attaché for Yemen, who noted that the Houthis have survived a near decadelong air war with Saudi Arabia. “It’s very difficult to neutralize this wide array of threats.”

Residents in the area near the latest US airstrike said Monday that they saw Houthi missiles being fired from remote and mountainous parts of Mukayras, a Houthi-controlled town in central Yemen, on Friday and Monday.

The missiles launched from Mukayras are believed to have been aimed at ships south of Aden or in the Bab el-Mandeb strait, while missiles fired from the western cities of Hodeida and Taiz targeted ships south of the Red Sea or off Yemen’s coast.

The Houthis have repeatedly said that they are acting in support of the people of Gaza, though many of the group’s targets have had no clear connection to Israel.

Even if the Pentagon destroys additional Houthi firepower, Iran appears ready to supply more.

Navy commandos, backed by helicopters and drones hovering overhead, boarded a small boat off the coast of Somalia on Thursday and seized Iranian-made ballistic-missile and cruise-missile components bound for Yemen, the Central Command said in a statement Tuesday.

The seized items included propulsion and guidance systems and warheads for Houthi medium-range ballistic missiles and antiship cruise missiles, as well as air-defense components, the statement said. Such weapons transfers to the Houthis violate international law and a United Nations Security Council resolution, the military’s statement said.

“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners on international merchant ships transiting in the Red Sea,” the statement said.

Two members of the Navy SEALs were reported missing last week from that mission.

Senior administration officials and Pentagon aides say they are bracing for much larger retaliatory attacks from the Houthis, and American commanders are preparing a series of escalating responses, senior US military officials said.

“We know they still have some capability,” said Kirby, a retired Navy admiral. “They still have time to make the right choice, which is to stop these reckless attacks.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Eric Schmitt Saeed Al-Batati