For those not really paying attention, this morning the destroyer USS Nitze hit three coastal radar installations in Houthi-controlled portions of Yemen. The strikes were in response to land-based cruise missile attacks against USS Mason, another USN destroyer operating in the area. The Mason came under attack on Sunday, and again yesterday, from two missile salvos (believed to be C-802s), and defended itself with SM-2 Standard and ESSM Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles. At this point it remains unclear whether the counter-measures were effective, or whether the cruise missiles simply crashed into the sea of their own accord.
Word is that the initial Houthi attacks are meant as a response to the big Saudi strike that killed a large number of people at a funeral last week. The Houthi may have gotten the missiles from Iran, although other suppliers are possible. The strikes on the coastal radar installations are intended to blind the missile launchers; without radar to identify targets, sending off a cruise missile is a pretty hopeless endeavor.
Escalation? Sure, but fairly measured at this point. The US attacks aren’t intended to send a “message,” but rather to cut out a critical part of the recon-strike complex. If the Houthi continue to launch such attacks on US or neutral shipping, or if they undertake other kinds of attacks (the small boat swarm that took out the former HSV-2) then the USN might pursue less limited options.
The broader context is ongoing US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which is predicated almost entirely upon the need to not make the Saudis feel sad and lonely after the Iran nuclear deal. I can understand the strategic logic of this support, but there really should be limits to how many people we’ll let the Saudis kill just so that they continue to feel loved.