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U.S. military strikes Yemen for a second night, bombs radar facility used by Houthis

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. military struck again at a target in Yemen it said was being used to attack commercial ships in the Red Sea. This follows earlier strikes that hit dozens of targets on Friday. The White House says the airstrikes on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are not intended to spark a wider war in the region. But tensions remain high, with the U.S. striving to limit interference from Iran as Israel's war against Hamas approaches 100 days. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following all this from Istanbul. Peter, thanks for being with us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Why the strikes now in this Red Sea area?

KENYON: Well, the airstrikes followed a number of warnings from President Joe Biden, the U.S. Central Command, warning that these Houthi attacks on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea had to stop. And the airstrikes have done considerable damage - the latest targeted a Houthi radar facility. But so far, the strikes do not appear to have deterred the Houthis. Their public response, at least, has been to declare that their attacks will continue.

SIMON: How does U.S. involvement change the situation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf?

KENYON: Well, the U.S. has long maintained a presence in the Gulf and has bases in the region, of course. Washington sent warships to the area in an effort to deter others from joining this conflict because, of course, a major concern is not to let this escalate into a wider regional fight. That's a risk the West is keen to avoid. And we should point out that the Houthis say the main reason for these attacks on commercial shipping is to show support for Hamas and Hezbollah, the Iran proxy militias that have been targeted by the Israeli military ever since Hamas' deadly raid on October 7. That attack killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and resulted in hundreds of hostages being taken.

SIMON: Peter, there were massive protests Friday in Yemen opposing the strikes against the Houthis. Might the Houthis now feel galvanized and continue attacks on shipping?

KENYON: Well, that's certainly a possibility. The Houthis appear to have the support of a very vocal segment of the population in Yemen, at the very least. Certainly, Iran has made clear it intends to keep up its support for the Houthis, which it sees as part of what it likes to call the axis of resistance - that's countries, militias, state and nonstate actors that see themselves as countering U.S. and Israeli influence in the region.

I was in Yemen on a reporting trip a number of years ago before the Houthis became such a major presence in the country. Back then, they were concentrated in the northwest, up near the border with Saudi Arabia. I remember a very long drive from the capital to see a meeting they were having. It was in a local hotel. They all filed in, and they carefully lined up at the cloakroom. Each one checked his rifle at the door, you know, with the clerk before heading into the meeting. This was probably 2007 or so. Back then, in the rest of Yemen - certainly in the capital - there was not very many people at all worried about the Houthis. There have been some big changes since then, of course.

SIMON: What are the ripple effects of cargo ships avoiding the Red Sea?

KENYON: Well, it's an important commercial route, and a number of major firms are now avoiding it. In the last day, in fact, carmakers Tesla and Volvo both announced they're suspending some of their production in Europe because of a shortage of components due to the attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The shipping giant Maersk and others have made it clear they're prepared to absorb the higher costs in the extra time it takes to send their ships around South Africa. And Maersk said last month that it believes this situation could continue for several months.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon, thanks so much for being with us.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.