U.S. and Britain bomb Yemen on eve of mass ceasefire marches
A British Typhoon aircraft returns to base in Cyprus after participating in a bombing raid in Yemen Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. | U.K. Ministry of Defence via AP

WASHINGTON—With tens of thousands of ceasefire activists poised to converge on Washington and London this weekend, the Biden administration and the Sunak government in Britain teamed up to let loose a wave of punishing airstrikes on Yemen Friday.

The bombing raids signal a major escalation and expansion of Israel’s war in Gaza, something President Joe Biden has claimed he seeks to avoid. Supporters of peace in Palestine on both sides of the Atlantic immediately condemned the attacks for raising the danger of an even bigger conflict.

“We fail to understand why President Biden would rather risk a regional war by bombing Yemen instead of simply stopping the Gaza genocide that is fueling conflict around the world,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said. CAIR is one of the organizers of the Jan. 13th March for Gaza in D.C.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., the lead sponsor of a Gaza ceasefire resolution in the U.S. Congress, accused the president of “violating Article I of the Constitution by carrying out airstrikes…without congressional approval.” In a post to X, she declared, “The American people are tired of endless war.”

Communist Party USA Co-Chair Joe Sims in the party’s New York office Friday morning, just before his departure for Washington, D.C., to join the national March for Gaza. | People’s World

On his way from New York to D.C. for the Saturday rally, Communist Party USA Co-Chair Joe Sims called the decision to bomb Yemen a “dangerous escalation” of the tense situation in the Middle East. “This is a moment when negotiations and diplomacy are needed, not more bombs,” he told People’s World.

“The administration should be using its power to push for a ceasefire to stop the killing in Gaza, not looking for fresh targets to expand the fighting,” Sims said.

Dangerous escalation

In the U.K., the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament—major leaders of the British ceasefire movement—issued a joint statement blasting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Biden. They said the recent battles in the Red Sea are a “direct consequence” of the U.S., Britain, and their allies’ support for Israel’s three-month assault on Gaza.

At least 73 separate raids were carried out late Thursday night and early Friday morning by U.S. and British forces, which included jet bombers, guided missiles, submarines, and the U.S. aircraft carrier group stationed in the region. The targets were reportedly munitions depots, launch sites, and command centers operated by the Houthi movement, which controls Yemen.

For weeks, the Houthis have been harassing the shipping lanes of the Red Sea in an attempt to disrupt cargo ships bound for Israeli ports. Biden said Friday that the bombings were proof that the U.S. “will not tolerate” any interference with shipping in the area.

“I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary,” he said.

Speaking from Ukraine, where he’s visiting President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sunak called the strikes an act of “self-defense,” even as he tried to tamp down critics back home who slammed him for not consulting with parliament before sending the military into combat.

The global capitalist economy has been feeling the effects of the Houthis’ actions. Nearly 15% of global seaborne trade passes through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, including 12% of sea-traded oil, 8% of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade, and 8% of the global grain trade. Oil tankers and giant containerships are avoiding the route, forced to instead go all the way around the African continent.

The diversion is costing some of the world’s biggest corporations billions in extra shipping costs and delaying deliveries; oil prices have been steadily climbing higher for weeks as the U.S. issued fresh ultimatums and reports indicated that strike plans were being finalized.

While the U.S. and the U.K. could not be moved to take action in defense of Palestinian lives these past months, their retaliation on behalf of corporate commerce came swiftly.

Immediately after the bombings, Russia requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, calling the actions “irresponsible.” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan furiously denounced the strikes, accusing the U.S. and Britain of turning the Red Sea into a “sea of blood.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning called on nations “not to escalate tensions” in the Red Sea. An Italian government official anonymously told the press that Italy had refused to take part in the raids or to support them, preferring to pursue a “calming” policy in the Red Sea.

Rather than a calming approach, however, Israeli government figures and several right-wing leaders in the U.S. are pressuring Biden to go even further than just bombing Yemen. They are advocating a full-blown war with Iran—an outcome that would cement the U.S. and Israel together in a deadly gamble.

Since the Houthis (like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza) have the support of the Iranian government, the latter must be overthrown, according to the war hawks.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went public in his advocacy for a war with Iran, writing in a widely-circulated Wall Street Journal opinion piece recently, “It’s time for the U.S. and its allies to target its head, Tehran, and bring down its regime.”

John Bolton—former Trump cabinet member and one of the architects of the U.S. war in Iraq—made the same argument in late December. He’s rallying neocons in the U.S. to squeeze Biden, declaring the U.S. has “no option but to attack Iran.” Ever since President George W. Bush declared Iran to be part of the “Axis of Evil” over 20 years ago, Bolton and his allies have been angling for a fight with that country.

In Yemen, meanwhile, Houthi spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree announced in a radio address that the strikes would “not go unanswered or unpunished.” The U.S. Navy warned all ships flying American flags to stay out of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for the next 72 hours.

Holding the line for a ceasefire

Back around the globe in Washington, progressive lawmakers are not letting up in their attempt to push Biden away from supporting more war.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minn., is heading up a global petition of lawmakers from multiple countries to press their governments to stop supporting the genocidal war against Palestinians. Over 450 parliamentarians from over 30 countries have so far added their names.

“We can hold two things in our heads at once: that the attacks by Hamas on October 7 were a war crime, and that Israel has responded by committing crimes against humanity—crimes that the United States and much of the West continue to let happen, despite our professed support for international law,” Omar said this week.

Democratic Representatives Jamaal Bowman (New York), Cori Bush (Missouri), André Carson (Indiana), Greg Casar (Texas), Jesús García (Illinois), Hank Johnson (Georgia), Summer Lee (Pennsylvania), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), Nydia Velázquez (New York), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (New Jersey) have all become signatories.

Outside the Capitol, ceasefire activists started arriving by bus, train, plane, and automobile to D.C. Friday. Ending Israel’s war in Gaza, participants would get to the root of what now threatens to become a major Middle East war.

“We’re past three months of constant killing,” Mohamad Habehh, development director of American Muslims for Palestine—lead organizer of Saturday’s march—told the press on Friday.

“We feel that it is important for us to come on this holiday weekend in the spirit of MLK when he said that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ that we stand up against the injustice that’s going on in Gaza right now, and stand up against the atrocities that are being supported and being promoted by our government.”


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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.