A dozen nations, including the United States, warned the Houthi militia in Yemen on Wednesday of unspecified consequences if it continued to attack shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest commercial routes.
“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the United States and allies said in a joint statement released by the White House. “We remain committed to the international rules-based order and are determined to hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks.”
The statement did not elaborate on what actions might be taken. The allied nations signing onto the statement were Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Also on Wednesday, the United States accused Iran, which has supplied weapons and intelligence to the Houthis, of direct and indirect involvement in the Red Sea attacks.
“We must not overlook the root of the problem: Iran has long enabled these attacks by the Houthis,” Christopher P. Lu, a member of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said at a meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday. The council did not take any action on the matter.
“We also know that Iran has been deeply involved in planning operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” Ambassador Lu added.
The Houthis are, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, backed by Iran, and together with Iran and Syria make up what has been called the “axis of resistance” to Israel and the United States. After years of a long-running civil war in Yemen against a government backed by Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally often at odds with Iran, the Houthis exercise de facto control over most of northern Yemen.
Since the Israel-Hamas war began almost three months ago, Hezbollah has stepped up rocket attacks on northern Israel, and drones and missiles have been launched from Yemen toward Israel, raising fears of a wider regional war.
The Houthis have also fired repeatedly on commercial ships heading to and from the Suez Canal — more than 20 times, Ambassador Lu said. The statement by the United States and its allies cited “attacks on vessels, including commercial vessels, using unmanned aerial vehicles, small boats, and missiles, including the first use of anti-ship ballistic missiles against such vessels.”
On Nov. 19, the Houthis seized a cargo ship and its crew — the British-owned, Japanese-operated Galaxy Leader. The militia is still holding them.
Houthi attacks have damaged several ships but have not sunk any. On Sunday, U.S. forces patrolling the region sank three Houthi boats that officials said had attacked a commercial ship as well as the Americans coming to its aid.
“We remain incredibly concerned, as we have been from the outset of this conflict, about the risk of the conflict spreading into other fronts,” Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, told reporters on Wednesday.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday that China wanted security in the Red Sea. But he did not directly respond to a question about why China had not signed the joint statement issued by the United States and 11 of its allies.
“China has always advocated maintaining the security of international waterways and has opposed attacks on civilian vessels,” Mr. Wang said.
Ordinarily, 15 percent of the world’s trade passes through the Red Sea-Suez route, Arsenio Dominguez, secretary general of the International Maritime Organization, an arm of the U.N., told the Security Council.
But many shipping companies have stopped using that passage, instead sending ships around the southern tip of Africa. Mr. Dominguez said that taking that route adds 10 days to voyages, slowing trade and raising prices worldwide.
Keith Bradsher and Siyi Zhao contributed reporting.