US strikes Yemen again as rebels attack Malta-flagged ship

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Wednesday, 17th January 2024

US forces carried out fresh strikes on Yemen on Tuesday as the Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed a missile attack on a Malta-flagged, Greek-owned cargo ship in the Red Sea. “The US conducted self-defence strikes against four Houthi ballistic missiles that posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships,” a US official said on condition of anonymity, marking at least the third such strike in less than a week.

Maritime risk management company Ambrey had earlier said a “Malta-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier was reportedly targeted and impacted with a missile while transiting the southern Red Sea northbound”. The vessel, the ‘Zografia’, was empty and was travelling from Vietnam to Israel with 24 crew members on board.

Malta’s Maritime Security Committee, presided by Transport Minister Chris Bonett, was convened to assess the situation. Malta’s Transport Ministry confirmed there are no reported injuries among the crew, and the vessel sustained damage to its structure. The vessel has continued its course and is currently seeking a port for necessary repairs.

A string of Houthi attacks and retaliatory US and British strikes have heightened fears of Israel’s war on Gaza flaring across the region and disrupted trade in one of the world’s key maritime commercial routes.

Undeterred by strikes, Houthis target more ships in the Red Sea

The New York Times reports Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen have launched a fresh round of attacks in shipping lanes critical for global trade, damaging a US-owned commercial ship on Monday after attempting to hit an American warship the day before. The strikes came just days after the US and British militaries unleashed a powerful barrage on militant sites in Yemen, and the Houthi response made clear how difficult it might prove to remove the threat posed to shipping in and around the Red Sea.

US forces are bracing for much larger retaliatory attacks from the Houthis, who began targeting ships after the war in the Gaza Strip began and are preparing escalating responses, senior US military officials said. United States and Britain hit more than 60 Houthi targets last week with more than 150 precision-guided munitions, but the militants still retained about three-quarters of their ability to fire missiles and drones at ships transiting the Red Sea. Many of their weapons systems are on mobile platforms and can be readily moved or hidden, US officials said.

Image: themedialine.org

Air freight rates could spike following Red Sea attacks

The Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are not only driving up sea freight. Air freights are going to get higher too, as global trade flows get increasingly disrupted. MSNBC reports that, in the past weeks, ocean freight rates have risen as much as $10,000 per 40-foot container, as container ships seeking to avoid the attacks embarked on long detours around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, diverting more than $200 billion of cargo away from the critical trade artery.

The delays to maritime trade may prompt some retailers to switch to air freight, as companies that normally ship their goods by sea want to ensure faster delivery, analysts said. This means that air cargo is about to play an expanded role in the supply chain ecosystem. Air freight can slash delivery times to just a few days compared to weeks taken by ocean carriers. Some shippers are already in survival mode.

Photo: Marco Prosch | Getty Images

Consensus on EU mission in the Red Sea

Among the 27 EU member states there seems to be “broad consensus” on the need to act “quickly and pragmatically” to guarantee navigation in the Red Sea and counter the Houthis, by creating an EU mission, according to a diplomatic source in assurance to Ansa. Now, the Political-Military Group will be asked to provide its “recommendations” and the EU Military Committee to provide military indications on the concept of crisis management “as soon as possible”.

The possibility of launching an EU mission in the area was discussed at the Politics and Security Committee (COPs) and “the will was expressed” to proceed with the proposal of the External Action Service to create a mission on the basis of the already existing French-led Agenor, and with an area of operations “from the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz to the Red Sea”. Agenor is the military branch of the larger ‘Emasoh’ (European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz), launched on 20th January 2020, with a joint European statement of support, and has been fully operational since February 2020. Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal are currently participating in the operation. The European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz “aims to ensure a safe navigation environment, contribute to the de-escalation of tensions and facilitate an inclusive regional dialogue in the Strait of Hormuz”, reads its mission website.

Photo: The Belgian frigate Leopold I in support of operation AGENOR in 2021. [Euractiv – EMASOH/AGENOR]

“Red Sea mission also with non-EU countries”

Italy and France have expressed their desire to “give rapid impetus to a European mission in which non-EU countries that share the importance of free navigation and whose trade routes are endangered by Houthi terrorist attacks could also participate.” The situation in the Red Sea was discussed yesterday between Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto and his French counterpart Sébastien Lecornu in a video conference meeting.

Photo: Il Manifesto

Trump sets record win in Iowa Republican caucuses

Former US President Donald Trump has emerged victorious in the Iowa Republican caucuses, confirming his potent hold on the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in a race that saw Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley trailing in his wake.

At an electoral event in the state that will host the next Republican votes on Tuesday, 23rd January, Trump said Nikki Haley was “counting on Democrats to infiltrate your primary to win New Hampshire”. Trump said: “She is not doing well at all in the polls, she came third in Iowa.” He accused the people behind Haley of being “pro-Biden, pro-immigration, and pro-China”.

Trump’s 30-point lead over his rivals marks a significant milestone in the early stages of the presidential primary season. Despite facing multiple legal challenges and criminal trials, his approach appears to resonate with Republican voters, securing him an insurmountable lead in the caucuses. Trump’s win in Iowa sets the stage for a potential rematch with President Biden in November.

The Republican contest now moves swiftly to New Hampshire, where Trump’s rivals will be looking to make their mark, albeit the road ahead promises to be an uphill climb for his opponents.

Photo: CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Trump’s defamation damages trial opens

Donald Trump was back in a New York courthouse on Tuesday for his second E. Jean Carroll defamation trial. He’s splitting his time between the campaign trail and the courtroom as a jury selected on Tuesday decides how much money in damages he must pay Carroll for his 2019 defamatory statements about her sexual assault allegations. A judge already found Trump liable: in a separate trial last year, a jury found Trump sexually assaulted Carroll and defamed her in 2022 statements.

Carroll, a former magazine columnist, alleged Trump raped her in a department store in the mid-1990s and then defamed her when he denied her claim. Carroll is seeking more than $10 million in damages. Carroll’s lawyer told the jury Trump’s attacks on her client caused her to receive threats. “Trump used the world’s biggest microphone to attack Ms Carroll, to humiliate her and to destroy her reputation,” the lawyer argued, adding that the damages awarded to Carroll “should be significant, very significant”.

Trump’s attorney argued that Carroll’s reputation was not harmed by Trump and that her career prospered since she came forward with the sexual assault allegations. She told the jury Carroll waited for the opportune time to publicly share her story to maximise coverage. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has appealed the jury’s verdict and all rulings against him.

Courtroom sketch: Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

WEF report strikes grim note for coming year

The World Economic Forum has opened after a curtain-raising report struck a gloomy note about challenges that face political and business leaders across the globe. This year’s assessment warns of particular dangers surrounding the spread of misinformation and disinformation in a year that has seen several major elections worldwide. The authors noted that the impact of artificial intelligence could make the problem even worse. In the longer term, looming climate and environmental risks were seen as the biggest threat, including loss of biodiversity and increased competition for natural resources. The overview also highlighted the apparently waning ability of global institutions to deal with escalating problems.

Photo: EFE/EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER

Predatory Putin, won’t accept frozen war” – Zelensky

“We need Putin to lose” and “we can do it. This year must be decisive,” as the Russian leader will never be satisfied with a frozen conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Davos Forum. “I remind you that after 2014 there was an attempt to freeze the war in Donbass. There were influential guarantors, but Putin is a predator, not satisfied with frozen products. We can beat him on the ground, we have proven it. But how can we be satisfied with sanctions that don’t even block the production of Russian missiles? In every Russian rocket there are key components from Western countries,” Zelensky said. Peace will only be brought closer by “ensuring that the sanctions work 100 per cent. And it is a Western weakness that the Russian nuclear industry is not yet subject to sanctions, even if Putin is the only terrorist who took a nuclear power plant hostage,” Zelensky underlined.

Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Russia dismisses Davos discussion on Zelensky’s peace plan

Meanwhile, Russia has dismissed discussions on a peace plan proposed by Ukraine at the World Economic Forum as pointless. The talks in the Swiss mountain resort will achieve nothing without Moscow’s participation, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, insisted. Organisers said 83 delegations had been present at the meeting to discuss the plan the previous day. Put forward by Zelensky, the 10-point peace plan, designed to end the war sparked by Russia’s invasion of its neighbour in February 2022, calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops, restoration of Ukraine’s state borders, and Russian accountability for war crimes. The proposal was discussed at a summit of national security advisers at the annual WEF meeting on Sunday.

Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“EU will approve €50 billion for Ukraine with or without Hungary”

The European Union will, if needed, find a way to bypass Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s veto and approve the €50-billion special fund for Ukraine, Ursula von der Leyen told a group of media, including Euronews, during the World Economic Forum on Tuesday.

The package, which is designed to provide Kyiv with financial support until 2027 is being held up by Hungary – an impasse that has left Brussels effectively without any money for the war-torn nation. Following a dramatic summit in mid-December, where Orbán made good on his threat and derailed the unanimous vote, EU leaders are set to reconvene again next month to give the so-called Ukraine Facility a second try. “I think it’s very important to engage with all 27 member states of the European Union to get the €50 billion for four years for Ukraine up and running,” the President of the European Commission said.

Photo: Hannes P. Albert/dpa-Pool/dpa

Roma sacks Mourinho as club coach

Josè Mourinho has been sacked as coach of Roma, the Serie A side announced Tuesday, saying it was “in the best interests of the club”. Mourinho, whose contract was due to expire in June, would leave the club alongside his technical team “with immediate effect”, Roma said. “We would like to thank Josè on behalf of all of us at AS Roma for his passion and efforts since his arrival at the club,” said owners Dan and Ryan Friedkin. We will always have great memories of his tenure at Roma, but we believe that an immediate change is in the best interests of the club. We wish Josè and his assistants all the best in their future endeavours.”

The 60-year-old Portuguese took over in 2021 and guided Roma to the inaugural Europa Conference League trophy in 2022 and the final of last season’s Europa League. However Roma have struggled this season and currently sit ninth in Serie A, five points away from the Champions League positions, after being convincingly beaten 3-1 at AC Milan on Sunday.

Photo: Getty Images

Benzema sues French minister Darmanin for defamation

Footballer Karim Benzema has filed a defamation complaint against French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who accused the former Real Madrid star of “known” links to the Islamist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. The former Les Bleus striker and winner of the 2022 Ballon d’Or was targeted by Darmanin after publishing a message of support for the inhabitants of Gaza in mid-October.

Main photo: Dozens of vessels have been targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea since November. (BBC/Getty Images – file image)

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