Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said British forces are ready to take action against Houthi rebels targeting cargo ships in the Red Sea.
In an article, he said Britain was “ready to take direct action” to protect this important shipping route.
Highlighting how a British warship shot down a suspected drone attack in the Red Sea in December, Mr Shapps said “we will not hesitate to take further action”.
Houthi forces have targeted foreign ships since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
The Iran-backed rebel group has declared support for Hamas and said it targeted ships bound for Israel, carrying out more than 100 drone and missile attacks.
US and British warships shot down these missiles and drones at great cost, but are now warning the Houthis to stop or risk military retaliation. In his article for the Daily Telegraph, Mr Shapps wrote: “The Houthis should make no mistake: we are committed to holding bad actors accountable for their illegal arrests and attacks.
“Continued aggression in the Red Sea risks leading to miscalculation and escalation that could trigger a regional conflict,” he added.
If the Red Sea is not protected, he wrote, “it risks emboldening those who seek to intimidate elsewhere, especially in the South China Sea and Crimea.
” Mr Shapps said the situation was “a test for the international community” and the UK must “stand strong alongside our allies”. The United States launched an international naval operation in December to protect shipping in the region.
Countries including the UK, Canada, France, Bahrain, Norway and Spain have participated.
As part of this coalition, HMS Diamond – a British Type 45 destroyer – shot down a suspected attack drone that month. The Ministry of Defense said it was the first time in decades that the Royal Navy had fired at an aerial target in anger.
On Sunday, the US Navy announced that it had destroyed Houthi “small boats” whose crews were trying to board a container ship in the Red Sea.
Helicopters from nearby US warships responded to the call for help and, after being attacked, sank three boats “in self-defense”. The crew died and the fourth boat fled the scene.
The problem for the US, UK and their allies is that targeting Houthi missile launch sites would seriously escalate the current crisis in the Middle East, potentially pushing the West and Iran into a direct confrontation.
It will also represent the West – as perceived by the Arab world – in entering the conflict in Gaza on the side of Israel.
The Red Sea is one of the most important shipping routes in the world because it connects markets in Europe and Asia.
About 12% of global trade passes through the Bab El Mandeb Strait, near where the Houthis are targeting.
Analysts warn that Houthi attacks could lead to higher prices, as it is also one of the most important routes for the transport of oil and liquefied natural gas produced in the Middle East .