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UK-US strikes against Houthis were a gamble - but they appear to be backfiring

The Houthi attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen is a significant escalation suggesting the British-American strategy to deter and degrade the Houthi threat is failing.

Who owns ships is a murky business. The debate about British links with the Marlin Luanda is a bit of a red herring.

The point is the Houthis say they attacked it because they believe it is British-owned.

Follow latest: US destroys Houthi anti-ship missile in Yemen

That's important because this week Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he had authorised another round of airstrikes to send a message to the Houthis: Stop attacking international shipping in the Red Sea.

It was always going to be a gamble. Either that show of force would make the Houthis think twice about what they have to lose from British American attacks destroying their missiles, radar and other assets.

Or it would stir up the Houthi hornet's nest further and infuriate them, provoking them to do double down and do their worst.

The evidence from last night's attack points to the latter outcome. The Houthi attacks ups the ante in a number of ways. They are saying 'we see your airstrikes and we raise our stakes'.

And it's an escalation in the way they've responded too. The oil tanker they've attacked was not even in the Red Sea. Its cargo is also important. The international economy is most sensitive to attacks on fuel.

The prime minister and his foreign office officials insist what is happening in the Red Sea has nothing to do with what is happening in Gaza. That is incorrect.

The Houthis full scale attacks on international shipping began a month after Israel's offensive there and they say they are acting in solidarity with their Arab brothers and sisters there.

You can question the sincerity of that solidarity. Sceptics would say this is more about winning support on the Arab street. It is certainly achieving its aim.

But the fact remains that the Houthis began this because of the war in Gaza and will most likely end it when it comes to an end.

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As Marco Forgione, the director general of the Export and International Institute told another broadcaster today, one way of ending the attacks on shipping in the Red sea is Israel ending its offensive in Gaza.

Britain and America for now though stand by their support of Israel's campaign despite the deaths of more than 25000 Palestinians.

The British and American attempts to disconnect their military action against the Houthis from Israel and Gaza is understandable but misleading.

But more worrying for Downing St, the White House and their military planners, their action appears to be backfiring. To make the Red Sea safe again the allies would have to entirely eradicate the Houthi menace to shipping.

That is impossible as long as the Houthis retain a capability of missiles and drones however small out in the desert wastes of Yemen.

The allied attacks on the Houthis have made them heroes in Yemen and far beyond. In that sense, instead of being weakening, they have been strengthened by the air strikes.

The Houthis are throttling the jugular of international commerce and lured the British and Americans into striking them in attacks that may only be making matters worse.