Updated Dec 3, 2023 - World

U.S. warship responds to Houthi-claimed attacks on commercial ships in Red Sea

 The guided missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) patrols the waters of the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch 21 February.

The guided missile destroyer USS Carney patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf. Photo: Felix Garza/U.S. NAVY/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. Navy warship intervened after three commercial ships came under attack from drones and missiles in a Red Sea assault claimed by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Sunday, American military officials said.

The big picture: Houthi rebels said the attacks that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) believes were "fully enabled by Iran" were in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

State of play: Per a CENTCOM statement, the three vessels targeted were: The Bahamas-flagged, U.K.-owned Unity Explorer; the Number 9, a Panamanian-flagged container ship; and Sophie II, another Panama-registered vessel. "These three vessels are connected to 14 separate nations," CENTCOM said.

  • It said the USS Carney, a Navy destroyer that's been patrolling in the region, responded to the vessels' distress calls and intercepted and shot down three drones in the southern Red Sea — a major shipping lane that runs between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
  • In one of the incidents, the Carney "engaged and shot down" a drone launched from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen headed toward the warship, though CENTCOM notes it's not clear whether the Carney was a target of the drones.
  • "There was no damage to the U.S. vessel or injuries to personnel," CENTCOM added.

What they're saying: The attacks, which began about 9:15am local time, "represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security," CENTCOM said.

  • "They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world," it added.
  • "We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran."
  • Iranian officials did not immediately respond to these comments.

Of note: Houthi rebels claimed in a broadcast earlier Sunday that they had struck two Israeli commercial vessels in part because they wanted to show solidarity with Palestinian people, per Reuters. Israel's military denied Israeli ships had been targeted on this occasion.

Zoom out: In addition to Israel's military intercepting missiles from Yemen, the Pentagon has reported taking retaliatory action against multiple attacks by Iran-backed groups on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

  • It's raised concerns that Israel and the U.S. could face the possibility of the war exploding into a wider regional conflagration, per Axios' Dave Lawler.

What we're watching: "The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners," CENTCOM said.

Go deeper: What to know about Iran's role in the Israel-Hamas war

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more details on the attacks and further context.

Go deeper