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Isa Soares Tonight

U.S. and U.K. Strike Iran-Backed Houthi Targets in Yemen; Huge Protest in Yemen After U.S. and U.K. Strike Houthi Targets; Mideast Leaders Condemn U.S. & U.K. Strikes In Yemen; European Leaders Voice Support For Strike On Houthis. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello and welcome, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, we begin with the escalating conflict in the Middle East. Iranian-

backed Houthi militants are now warning they will retaliate after the U.S. and the U.K. launched huge strikes against the group in Yemen overnight.

The western allies say they hit more than 60 targets spread over 16, different locations in response to months of attacks by the Houthis on

ships in the Red Sea. It is important to note this all links back to October the 7th. It's been almost 100 days since the brutal attack by Hamas

in Israel, which is, you know, led Israel to launch a full-scale offensive inside Gaza.

Well, that offensive prompt to the Houthis to begin attacking ships with any connection to Israel in the Red Sea. What they say is a sign of

solidarity with the Palestinian people. For weeks now, countries around the world have been demanding an end to this Houthi aggression, warning there

would be consequences.

And that brings us to today, military action by the U.S. and the U.K. Reaction has been pouring in from around the world, which we'll get to

later in the show. But these were the scenes early on the streets of Yemen's capital, as you can see there, Sana'a. Thousands are showing their

support for the Houthis as well as the Palestinian people.

To unpick all of this, I want to go to our diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, who joins us this hour from Tel-Aviv. And Nic, before we even

start talking bigger picture here, just tell us first of all about these strikes and the targets in Yemen.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the targets were a radar installation, they were military bases, Houthi military bases that

were the launch sites for drones, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and also weapons storage facilities for those same weapon systems.

In Sana'a, in the north outside Sana'a, in the capital, and ties in the southwest in Hudaydah, the western port city, that's where the targets

were. The Houthis say that five military personnel were killed and six injured in those strikes. There haven't been any reports of civilians

injured in these strikes.

More than -- well, the Houthis say 73, there were 73 strikes that U.S. and U.K. say there were about 60 different targets at a number of different

sites. We don't have, if you will, and sort of military pilots that battle damage assessment from the U.S. and the U.K. about their success or not,

but the Houthis have made it very clear they will respond.

SOARES: Yes, and this afternoon, just on our air, in fact, Nic, John Kirby was asked about Iran's role in its support of the Houthis. I want to play

this. Have a listen.



before these strikes that look, the Houthis may be pulling the trigger, but it's Iran that's providing the guns.

They're resourcing their support in the Houthis. They're providing them the capabilities that they have been using against international shipping in

the Red Sea.


SOARES: And Nic, you have reported from Yemen, you know the Houthis' position. What is the strategy then, from the Houthis and from Iran. And

how much of this strike play right perhaps into their hands?

ROBERTSON: Well, absolutely, the Houthis are supplied by Iran, and not just in equipment, and often very sophisticated equipment, that sophisticated

drones, sophisticated long-range cruise missiles. But also in training, and other sort of technical expertise. You know, a few years ago before this

round of the Houthis targeting shipping in the Red Sea, they have at times tried to target Saudi oil tankers, moving through the Red Sea.

And at that time, they've used high-speed boat with high-speed sort of motorboats with -- packed with -- packed with explosives, unmanned boats.

So they have a track record of targeting vessels in the Red Sea, but actually their strikes against these -- against these ships that they say

have Israeli connections.


They were targeting Israel just 12 days after Hamas' attacks on October the 7th. They were firing long-range cruise missiles at Israel. And these were

shot down by the U.S., by the U.K., and also Saudi fighter jets took to the skies to shoot down some of those missiles.

So the Houthis have been, as they say, supporting the people of Gaza, initially trying to -- initially, trying to strike -- initially trying to

strike directly in Israel, realizing they were unable to do that, then targeting shipping in the Red Sea.

SOARES: Important context from our Nic Robertson this hour in Tel Aviv. Thanks very much, Nic. While leaders across the Middle East have been

condemning the U.S. and U.K. attacks, of course, Iran, which backs the Houthis, you heard Nic say there, quote, "strongly slam the strikes",

saying they "breach Yemen sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Saudi Arabia, which only in recent months engaged in peace talks, if you remember, with the Houthis after years of war, urge restraint and to avoid

escalation. And Kuwait's Foreign Ministry says it's following the developments in the region with quote -- excuse me, "great concern". For a

closer look at the developments in the region, I want to bring in Colin Clarke; he's a Senior Research Fellow at the Soufan Center, where he

focuses on terrorism, international security as well as geopolitics.

Colin, welcome back to the show. Let's start on these strikes, both U.S. as we've heard and the U.K. say there were -- strikes were in self-defense.

But they appear to have been designed at least from what I think -- to try to degrade the Houthi capabilities with a secondary objective of trying to

impose some real costs on them. Was that achieved? Was that successful in your view?

COLIN CLARKE, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, SOUFAN CENTER: Well, you know, as your previous guests mentioned, the U.S. and the U.K. have yet to conduct a

battle damage field assessment. And I think until that's done, we won't really know the full extent to which the Houthis military infrastructure

has been set back, because the Houthis enjoy the state's sponsorship of Iran, we know that more weapons, more ammunition, more missiles and drones

will be forthcoming.

But we're hoping that this, you know, there will be a temporary pause or at least initial setback that will give the Houthis reason to think about

continuing to strike commercial shipping targets.

SOARES: Right, but this is a -- this is a war-hardened group, right? They've been fighting civil war in Yemen since 2014, and they're already

vowing, Colin, to retaliate. How might that look like? How might that retaliation look like? And do we have a sense of the capabilities? How much

hardware they have? I know Nic was talking about them having sophisticated equipment, technical expertise, even from Iran.

CLARKE: Yes, this is a highly capable group. It's a highly active group, it's probably the most active of all of Iran's proxies in the so-called

Axis of Resistance, and we should expect missile attacks, perhaps drone swarms, and a real escalation, at least in the short term as the Houthis

tried to prove that they're undeterred.

And I think the key here, as you mentioned is, really the training provided by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Quds Force, you know, top of the

line training from an elite unit within Iran security apparatus.

SOARES: In the last -- what I would say, in the last hour or so, we've seen that a missile has been fired towards a vessel in the Gulf of Aden near

Yemen. This is from the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, they said in an advisory note. Beyond shipping though, Colin, how else can they

attack the U.S. and U.K. interests?

CLARKE: Yes, they could attempt to go after warships, that's a lot -- more of a hardened target than the ships they've been going after so far. And if

they attempt to escalate in that manner, the Houthis should expect that the U.S. and the U.K. will respond in kind. Again, this is a really difficult

position for the Biden administration. Because --

SOARES: Yes --

CLARKE: They need to thread a needle between responding with force, in an attempt to deter a group that some people call undeterrable. But also not

kind of letting up the pressure on this group where they feel emboldened and more brazen to conduct further attacks.

SOARES: Yes, that was -- I mean, you say undeterred, but that was going to be my next question, because if and when they retaliate as they say they

will, once you start responding, Colin, to these attacks by the Houthis, I'm guessing the U.S. and the U.K. must be prepared to do it again, right?

So does this risk this burringly(ph) out of control?

CLARKE: In some ways it does. And I think we're already in a low-boil regional war. The question becomes, does it escalate beyond that? Does it,

you know, become a regional conflagration where we've got even more active participation from Lebanese Hezbollah, from Iraq, Shia militias, and some

of the other groups that have already been attacking U.S. forces and trying to mix it up with Israel.


And I think at the end of the day, it looks like Israel and Iran are on somewhat of a collision course. What role does the U.S. play there? Does it

serve as a buffer --

SOARES: Yes --

CLARKE: Or does it kind of serve as a force multiplier for Israel? That's something we'll learn in the coming weeks.

SOARES: I want to broaden it out slightly to the region because we've heard Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, all condemning these airstrikes as you've probably

seen. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had this to say, Colin, have a listen.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRIME MINISTER, TURKEY (through translator): America is now carrying out this disproportionate use of force in the same way in

Israel and Palestine too. Iran is looking at how it can protect itself against all this. England has always taken steps with America throughout

this process and continues to do so. At the moment, they're in an effort to turn the Red Sea into a sea of blood.


SOARES: Efforts to turn the Red Sea into a sea of blood. I mean, how high then is the risk right now of escalation? How do you see this playing out

in the next few weeks?

CLARKE: Yes, the risk of escalation, a real other tangible and we can't ignore those. At the same time, you know, we have to take things that

Erdogan say with a grain of salt, he's always looking for political points. He kind of knows the levers to press to get people riled up.

And he's also playing to an audience in his own country in Turkey and an audience in the region to kind of show the strength of Turkey without

actually having to commit more resources. So take what Erdogan says with a grain of salt, but I think within the broader picture, we absolutely do

have to be concerned about things spiraling out of control. You know, one minor miscalculation or miscommunication --

SOARES: Yes --

CLARKE: And we could see --

SOARES: Unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it there, Colin, because your signal was taking hits. But we understood really the -- your

point, your last point you were making the miscalculation, that's all it takes. We'll see how this develops. We'll touch base with you, of course,

as the story develops in the Red Sea, and how the Houthis critically retaliate. Colin, appreciate it, thank you very much.

CLARKE: Thank you.

SOARES: Well, while all of this unfold, even fears over a wider conflict rising. Let's take a look, a quick look at oil price because U.S. crude

climbed a 4.2 percent in recent trading, $75 a barrel. You could see WTI crude is now up 1, just over 1.25 percent, Brent Crude up a bit, more 1 --

and almost half a percent. Brent Crude jumping 4 percent at one point, crossing the $80 a barrel level.

Despite these gains though, oil prices are still lower than they were before the October the 7th attacks, because of concerns about over supply.

In about 15, 20 minutes or so, I'll be looking at the financial aspect of this, of these attacks and the impact that's having on commercial trade and

maritime trade.

Now, the British Prime Minister is pledging additional support to Ukraine's effort against Russia. Rishi Sunak arrived in Kyiv on Friday and pledged

2.5 billion pounds. That's more than $3 billion for military and humanitarian aid. Mr. Sunak visited to sign what his government is calling

a historic agreement with Ukraine on security cooperation. Have a listen.


RISHI SUNAK, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: I want to send a strong signal of support to the Ukrainian people, but also a strong signal of support

that Vladimir Putin needs to recognize we're not going anywhere, I'm here with one clear message, the United Kingdom stands with Ukraine.


SOARES: And still to come tonight, more fallout from Israel's war in Gaza, the landmark case before The Hague, Israel is on the defense today, telling

the International Court of Justice this is no genocide. We hear what they had to say next.



SOARES: Well, Israel says a landmark case brought against it at The Hague is a concerted and cynical effort to prevent the very meaning of the word,

"genocide". It's rejecting South Africa's urgent petition to stop the war in Gaza, presenting its defense today to the International Court of

Justice. Israel says if there were any acts of genocide, they were committed against Israel by Hamas. Have a listen.


TAL BECKER, LAWYER FOR ISRAEL: It is respectfully submitted that the application and request should be dismissed for what they are, a libel

designed to deny Israel the right to defend itself according to the law from the unprecedented terrorist onslaught it continues to face, and to

free the 136 hostages Hamas still holds.


SOARES: South Africa's legal team tried to head off the self-defense argument yesterday, if you remember, condemning the brutal attacks by

Hamas, but saying no atrocity justifies genocide in response. It accuses Israel of deliberately trying to destroy the people of Gaza.


ADILA HASSIM, LAWYER FOR SOUTH AFRICA: Everyday, there is mounting irreparable loss of life, property, dignity and humanity for the

Palestinian people. Our news feeds show graphic images of suffering that has become unbearable to watch.

Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court without an indication of provisional measures, the atrocities will continue with the

Israeli Defense Force indicating that intense pursuing this course of action for at least a year.


SOARES: Our Melissa Bell joins us now live from The Hague. And Melissa, of course, yesterday, for our viewers watching, we brought our viewers a

perspective of South Africa's Justice Minister. Today, I believe you are joined by Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat. Just talk us

through what Israel's rebuttal first of all, has been from what we heard.

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was, of course, as you mentioned a moment ago, Isa, the question of self-defense

that we had expected, but also very vehemently from several of Israel's barristers and representatives. The idea that it was a perversion, a

subversion, a distortion of the truth that had been presented by South African lawyers.

And indeed, an attack on the convention itself since it's sought to turn it into what the lawyers on the Israeli side described as a charter for the

aggressor by preventing Israel from having the ability to defend itself. As you mentioned a moment ago here, I am joined by Lior Haiat, delighted to

have you with us, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry.

I'd like to start where we just left off there in the clip that we heard from yesterday, the South African saying -- South African lawyer saying, no

atrocity can justify the levels of suffering that we're seeing inside Gaza, only a ruling from this court can stop it. What do you say to that? What

else can stop the suffering in Gaza?

LIOR HAIAT, SPOKESPERSON, FOREIGN MINISTRY, ISRAEL: There's a real easy way to stop it. You can stop the war today if Hamas surrenders and if they

release the 136 hostages that they still hold almost 100 days. And this could put an end to the suffering of the Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The problem that we saw yesterday, and we heard about it from the Israeli legal team today, is that South Africa became the legal arm of a terror



Actually, they're using the Palestinian population in Gaza as legal human shields for the terrorists of Hamas. They're trying to protect Hamas by

using the Palestinian's suffering, and what we saw today is that, the legal team bringing(ph) it, if I can say so, that dismantled the South African

case, one false charge after another.

And we saw that first of all, there's no reason for this trial at all. And simply if anyone should be on trial, it's South Africa itself because they

are supportive over terror organization that called for a genocide on Israel, and tried to do that on October 7th, which is a violation of the

Anti-Genocide Convention.

BELL: On the question, of course, the South Africans have pointed out, and we've heard from their lawyers, Hamas cannot be put on trial here, not

being a state. On the question of the control that Israel has had over Gaza for all of these years and decades. One of the points that was made

yesterday by South African lawyers is that this is essentially a territory controlled by Israel, always has been.

And that therefore, what we've seen over the course of the last few months, three months, is a tightening of that control. But something that was

intolerable for the Palestinian population even before.

HAIAT: First of all, Hamas cannot be put on trial because there are a terror organization that obey no international law. They've committed war

crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual crimes on October 7. and since. The second question, Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, 19 years ago. The

Gaza Strip could have become an example for the co-existence of Palestinians and Israelis.

The problem is the Gaza Strip, instead of becoming an example for co- existence became an example of how a terror organization takes over a territory and makes it a base of a tax. So neutral(ph), almost 100,000

rockets have been launched since 2005 until today on Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip.

Most of the humanitarian aid that came to Gaza, ended up in the hands of Hamas and became the tools that Hamas uses to attack Israelis. We have seen

tunnels that are 500 kilometers long and the Gaza Strip, and we haven't seen this in the same tunnels, in the same money that it used for the

tunnels could have been for building an economy, for building a health system, for building an education system. And they didn't, they chose

terrorism instead of choosing co-existence.

BELL: But the blockade imposed by Israel 17 years long, was such that, that was impossible, it was not a question of Hamas, it was a question of

Israeli control of the lives of panic --


HAIAT: I don't agree. And first of all, the blockade is a result of terrorism, not the other way around. Secondly, the blockade was basically

over the -- in the last year, thousands of Palestinians from Gaza came to work in Israel because we started to improving the Gazan economy, can

improve the co-existence between Israel and the Palestinians.

And they ended up -- those Gazan workers that came to work in Israel in order to help the Israeli -- the Palestinian economy in Gaza, ended up

being the ones taking notes of where each family leaves. So the Palestinians, the terrorists came -- coming on October 7 had maps of each

family, where they live, where they sleep, how many people are in each house?

And those are -- this information came from those workers that came to work in Israel. The problem was not the blockade. The blockade was part of what

we thought is the solution. The problem is that Hamas ideology is to destroy the state of Israel and kill all the Jews.

And if we don't put a stop to that, and that's what we're trying to do today. We will go over and over the same routine, which Hamas attacks

Israel and Israel defend itself.

BELL: So where then, Lior, does this end, given that?

HAIAT: It ends with elimination of Hamas from the Gaza Strip? And releasing all the hostages and creating a different reality, a reality in which the

Gaza Strip will not be a base of a threat to Israel. I don't know how it will work. I really don't, but I do know that we will not go back to the

reality on October 6.

October 6, we had a ceasefire. This is actually what South Africa is asking. South Africa is taking us back or asking to take us back to October

6th with a ceasefire that Hamas will rebuild this powers, and we'll prepare the next October 7th massacre and the next one after that, and the next one

after that as we saw in court today, this is exactly what they're planning.


BELL: We expect the judges rule very quickly on the idea of these provisional measures. What will Israel do if it orders it to stop


HAIAT: We're confident that the court will understand that the South African case has no basis, and we expect the court to not to take those

measures because this is wrong. This is -- it has nothing to do with genocide. If there is anything to do with genocide, it's what Hamas tried

to do to Israelis on October 7 massacre.

BELL: Lior Haiat, we're so grateful for your time. Thank you very much, indeed.

HAIAT: Thank you.

BELL: An idea there of what's to come. Isa, we expect that ruling to come possibly in the next few days. It could take a couple of weeks, but that

will come much more quickly of course than the much more serious and substantive consideration of the serious allegations of genocide. This of

course, could take years, Isa.

SOARES: Melissa Bell for us there at The Hague in the Netherlands. Thanks very much, Melissa. And still to come tonight, a look at how crucial the

Red Sea is when it comes to trade and how the crisis there could hit the global economy. A high stakes presidential election is heating up.

Meantime, in Taiwan, details ahead on candidates before voters head to the polls.



SOARES: And we return now to our top story, the U.S. and U.K. airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen. Those strikes join condemnation and calls to calm

across them at least. Leaders across the region have criticized the strikes from Iran to Kuwait to Jordan. Massive crowds have gathered to demonstrate

in Sana'a, as you can see there. That's a rebel-held Yemeni capital.

By contrast though, European leaders have thrown their support behind the Western strikes. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the strikes were

predicated on self-defense, blaming the Houthis for targeting shipping vessels. Germany's foreign office echoed that sentiment describing the

Houthis attack in Red Sea as illegal. They call the British and American strikes an attempt to prevent further attacks and to stabilize the region.

Belgium's foreign minister expressed her support, too, though she was careful to note that all parties need to work, "to avoid any spillover."

For more on the view from the U.S. and the U.K., Natasha Bertrand joins us at the Pentagon, as well as Matthew Chance for us in London.

Natasha, to you first, the Houthis are vowing, as we've just mentioned at the top of the hour to retaliate. In a statement, they said, "We will

confront America, make it kneel down, and burn its battleships and all its bases and everyone who operates it -- with it, no matter the cost." That

was a statement from the Houthis spokesman. How is the U.S.? How is the Pentagon, Natasha, preparing for this sort of retaliation?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's clearly very strong language. The question is whether they actually have

the capabilities still to back up that strong language. The U.S. says that they did do significant damage to the Houthis infrastructure. They targeted

command and control nodes, they targeted weapons, depots, and they haven't been able to provide us with an exact percentage yet of just how much of

the Houthi infrastructure they destroyed, but they said that it was notable.

Now, the question is, is the U.S. going to conduct these kinds of attacks every time we see the Houthis kind of regroup and launch missile and drone

strikes on Red Sea shipping? Because they have indicated, as you said, that they are not going to stop doing this, that they are doing this in

solidarity with the Palestinians. And then basically, as long as the U.S. and the Western world continue to support Israel, then they will continue

to launch these attacks.

That is not something the U.S. has addressed at this point, although they have said that they reserve the right to continue these attacks if the

Houthis also continue theirs, but at the same time, they say that they want to avoid escalation. And so it's really tricky balance that the U.S. has to

conduct right now, especially because the Houthis are backed by Iran.

And one of the big questions is whether Iran is going to get involved in a more significant way if the U.S. and the U.K., for example, continue

attacking Houthi infrastructure and Houthi targets in the coming days and weeks.

SOARES: And, Matthew, just talk, just explain to our viewers, kind of the role the U.K. played in these attacks and how it's been received here.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it was a pretty small role. There were other countries that took part as well,

Australia, the Netherlands, Bahrain. But I think that the United Kingdom was the only other country, apart from the United States, that sent

warplanes on this attack. And so it was very much a U.S.-led operation with participation in the air by the United Kingdom and some support for some

other countries as well.

At least four British warplanes took off from a British air base on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. There was a fuel tanker that took

off as well, because it's a long way. It's a couple of thousand miles as a roundtrip to these targets in Yemen. And so the warplanes had to be

refueled on the way. But because it was a U.S.-led operation, the British are very much, you know, kind of echoing the U.S. line, which is that this

was a strike that took place, it was a series of strikes that took place in self-defense.

Rishi Sunak saying that, the British Prime Minister saying that during a visit to Ukraine earlier on today.

There's also been a little bit of criticism, quite a lot of criticism actually in Britain, from opposition parties here, because this was a

decision to stage this military action that didn't involve parliament, the whole government. Opposition parties are saying that the parliament should

have been recalled, and there should have been a discussion in parliament before military action against another country in the Middle East involving

Britain was launched. In defense of that, the British government, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, saying that these strikes were carefully

targeted and they were limited.

They're also saying, British officials, that there aren't any further strikes that are planned at the moment. Although, as Natasha was just

saying, both the U.S. and the U.K. are reserving the right to carry out more military action if the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea continue.

SOARES: Yes. At the moment. And Tash, into you, I mean, our viewers would have seen -- we saw Secretary Blinken re: on a mission diplomacy mission

just in the last week or so, trying to contain this crisis, the war against Hamas.


It doesn't seem like much has come out of that, correct me if I'm wrong, but there is a real fear right now of this broadening out, this conflict

broadening out of an escalation. How is the U.S. hoping to contain this?

BERTRAND: Well, during that exact same trip to the Middle East that Secretary Blinken was on, he made a surprise trip to Bahrain. And Bahrain,

we know, is one of the countries that ultimately decided to support the U.S. in these strikes against the Houthis in Yemen. And so while at the

same time, the Secretary of State was trying to contain the conflict when it comes to Israel and Gaza, he was also trying to build this coalition of

countries that would support the U.S. and ultimately the U.K. in this operation to degrade Houthi targets, because while they don't want this

conflict to escalate and broaden and include new fronts, for example, with other Iran-backed groups, particularly Hezbollah joining the war, they view

this Houthi situation a bit differently. They view it within the context of defending international trade, global commerce, defending commercial

vessels in the Red Sea.

And particularly, the U.S. revealed something new last night, which is that they do believe that the Houthis began directly targeting U.S. vessels on

Tuesday. And that was really one of the last straws here that prompted the U.S. to respond. So, all of this is very carefully framed within the

context of self-defense. But I think that you're going to see that continue to be challenged as the Houthis regroup and continue to launch their


SOARES: Natasha and Matthew, thank you to you both. In the last few minutes, we've heard Iran condemning the airstrikes that have been carried

out by the U.K. in Yemen, the permanent mission of Iran to the United States raising a statement saying this unwarranted war violates Yemen's

sovereignty, international law, the U.N. Charter and Security Council resolutions, jeopardizing regional peace, as well as security. Goes -- it

goes on to say the foreign minister here, instead of a military attack on Yemen, the White House should immediately stop all military security

cooperation with Tel Aviv against the people of Gaza and the West Bank so their security returns to the entire region.

Now that I've still got you both, Natasha, let me pick up on that with you if you're still with us. How does -- how -- the fear I'm guessing right now

is bringing Iran into the fold. How much of a concern is that to the United States, given that these are Iran -- the Houthis are Iran-backed?

BERTRAND: It's a big concern because the U.S. actually has released declassified intelligence saying that the Iranians have been deeply

involved in helping the Houthis to plan and target the commercial vessels that they have been attacking in the Red Sea over the last several months.

This is not something that the Iranians have simply been standing by and not been involved in.

In addition to providing the Houthis with weaponry and equipment, they have also been actively giving them tactical intelligence, which has allowed

them to carry out these strikes. And so the U.S. is concerned that that role could actually expand even further, of course, if this conflict

continues to escalate -- the back and forth between the West and the Houthis, kind of this tit for tat retaliation going on now. So, it's

definitely something that they're weighing every day.

SOARES: Natasha Bertrand for us and Matthew Chance, thank you to you both.

Now, the Red Sea is usually important when it comes to trade as one of the world's main routes to most container ships. The waterway connects with the

Suez Canal and a prolonged closure because of Houthi attacks could have a knock on impact on global supply chains. That in turn could hike up prices

of manufactured goods. Even if you don't feel it straightaway, you could feel it in six months' time or so.

The Suez Canal accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of world trade. That includes oil exports, over 30 percent of global container shipping volumes.

Already, carriers have been forced to reroute with six of the 10 biggest containing ships or companies, shipping companies just largely or

completely avoiding the Red Sea. Instead, they have to go around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, meaning a delay of up to three weeks.

Joining me now for more on this is Michelle Wiese Bockmann, an analyst at Lloyd's List Intelligence, which provides data on global maritime trade.

Michelle, thank you for taking the time to speak to us here on the show. We have briefly outlined there the importance of this maritime route for

trade, but just explain the knock on effect here of these attacks on the flow of shipping, first of all.

MICHELLE WIESE BOCKMANN, PRINCIPAL ANALYST, LLOYD'S LIST INTELLIGENCE: Well, so far into the military attacks, we have seen a week on week four of

nine percent in vessel transit in the Red Sea and 26 percent for year on year. Most of that has been the world's largest container ships that

transit through the Suez Canal and go via the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, of course, laden with consumer and manufacturing goods for Europe, from


And of course, that -- the diversion and the additional time and costs to go around the Cape of Good Hope has resulted in a sharp spike in shipping



They've doubled, of course. And also it's interrupted global supply chains. What we have seen is that the container ship industry does have extra

capacity, so that will probably smooth out some of the blips and help the logistics chain become a little bit more resilient as months gone -- as

months go on. But, of course, this is a, you know, an hour by hour, day by day change in circumstances. So, because things are so volatile, you can't

really make very many forecasts. It depends on the duration and the extent of this action by the Houthis.

SOARES: And then on that, I know it's a case by case, day by day, even an hour by hour. Do these strikes by the U.S. and the U.K. then, do they raise

or reduce the risk of traveling through an area? What have you seen today in terms of traffic?

BOCKMANN: So, what we've seen today is that we've seen about 25 vessels reverse or change course, and we've seen about 150 vessels continue through

the strait uninterrupted. The -- there has been advice from maritime security companies for vessels to pause transits for three days. The

INTERTANKO, the world's representative group for independent tanker owners, have recommended that transits are paused.

And I'm hearing from ship owners that vessels laden with oil that's destined for Europe, they've been asked to pause at the deviation point

where they make a decision whether to go around the Cape or whether they go through the Red Sea. And so really everybody's waiting to see what if any

retaliatory action is taken.

Of course, we heard about three hours ago that the Houthis did make another missile attack unsuccessful at a nearby tanker, which we've been able to

identify. It's actually carrying Russian crude that was loaded in Ust-Luga and it was heading for Asia or China. So, either the Houthis are

indiscriminate or they have wrong information because this tanker, Khalissa, was sold by the U.K. owner about five months ago. So it really is

a very fast moving situation.

SOARES: Yes, I saw that the United Kingdom maritime trade operations, I think we're relating to this, the missile being fired towards a vessel in

the Gulf of Aden near Yemen. So who does this vessel belong to? What information do you have on this?

BOCKMANN: Well, the information is -- what we have is this vessel was sold by a U.K. ship owner in May last year and it was deployed immediately in

Russian trading and it's part of what we call the shadow fleet of anonymously owned vessels that undertake this sanction shipping. So, it is

-- these trade flows from Russia to China and India had been completely uninterrupted until today. It is an interesting choice for the Houthis if

they did seek to target this vessel to go for one that's carrying Russian oil.

SOARES: And I just want to pick your brain about something. I mean, in terms of vessels that move through this area, China, I mean, we haven't

really spoken about China. How many of them are Chinese vessels?

BOCKMANN: Chinese-owned vessels? We've seen like China's COSCO, the government-owned ship owner, they have diverted a lot of their container

ships around the Cape of Good Hope. But we have seen a lot of container trade from Chinese-owned vessels destined for Russia, et cetera, they have

gone through in volumes that haven't really registered any blips. And we've seen the oil trade that I referred to earlier.

The -- most of the interruption has been to vessels with commercial ties to Europe or America.

SOARES: That's very important context. And I appreciate you giving us that context as something that we were wondering because of course we haven't

heard anything from China following vis-a-vis the Houthis, of course, and this is important context that you are providing. Michelle, thank you very

much. Appreciate it.

BOCKMANN: Thank you.

SOARES: And this just in to CNN. According to the Israeli Prime Minister's Office, the director of the Mossad spy agency has reached an agreement with

Qatar on the delivery of medicines to hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. The statement says the medicines will be delivered in the next few days. In

response to the announcement, a group representing the families of hostages called on the government to demand visual proof that the hostages are

receiving the messages -- the medicines. Of course, as soon as we have any more information, we shall bring that to you.

And still to come tonight, a big weekend for voters in Taiwan with the incumbent president not in the running. The question remains, who will be

Taiwan's next leader? That's next.



SOARES: Well, 2024 shaping up to be a major year for elections right across the world. Taiwan's high stakes presidential and legislative election is

happening tomorrow. CNN's Will Ripley has a story for you from Taipei.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taiwan at a crossroads, the upcoming presidential election, some call a choice between peace and war.

Taiwanese voters face a monumental decision, continue prioritizing ties with Washington, or recalibrate the U.S. relationship and mend fences with



SIMON CHU, TAIWAN VOTER (through translator): If the Democratic Progressive Party doesn't change the direction, I think that work could happen in our



RIPLEY (voice-over): In the campaign's final days and hours, three parties drawing battle lines. Watching closely, China's communist leaders, and U.S.

lawmakers. Taiwan's ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, the presidential frontrunner.


LAI CHING-TE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE PARTY: We are determined to safeguard peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Presidential candidate and current vice president, Lai Ching-te, running alongside Taiwan's former U.S. envoy, a ticket openly

despised by Beijing.


Lai says deterrence is the only way to defend Taiwan from a Chinese takeover, a message that seems to resonate with many in this crowd.


RIPLEY (voice-over): And a message that infuriates China. Lai promises to continue the policies of Taiwan's two-term president, Tsai Ing-wen. Beijing

broke off talks with Taipei when Tsai won in 2016. Her landslide re- election in 2020 fueled in part by fears of Taiwan becoming the next Hong Kong.

During Tsai's eight-year presidency, U.S.-Taiwan ties and arms sales hitting new highs. Cross-strait ties tanking, tensions boiling over.

Taiwan's two main opposition parties call it a dangerous path, claiming it pulls Taiwan, China, and the U.S. closer and closer to a catastrophic

cross-strait conflict.

Plans for a joint ticket collapsed on live TV, giving the ruling party a slight edge. Kuomintang, or KMT candidate, Hou Yu-ih, seen as friendlier to

China, calling for more cross-strait diplomacy and trade.


HOU YU-IH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, KUOMINTANG PARTY (through translator): Do not use hatred to create confrontation and division.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Taiwan People's Party, or TPP candidate Ko Wen-je promising a pragmatic and professional China policy.


CYNTHIA WU, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, TAIWAN PEOPLE'S PARTY: Our party would like to reach out to China and have them begin a dialogue with us.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Intelligence agencies in Taipei accuse Beijing of election interference, stopping sanctions on Taiwanese exports.


Sending spy balloons, showing off a new aircraft carrier. And this week, launching a satellite over Taiwan, triggering a rare emergency alert during

this Foreign Ministry press conference. Taiwan later apologized for mistranslating the Chinese word for satellite to missile.


CHING-TE: They're trying to destroy Taiwan's democracy whenever possible.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Disinformation, deep fake videos, doctored audio, all coming from China, Taiwan intelligence says. Beijing calls the ruling party

candidate dangerous, deepening divisions ahead of a crucial vote to define this democracy's future.


RIPLEY (on camera): Given that Taiwan is the largest source of tension between China and the U.S., the island's main international backer and arms

supplier, how China responds to the result of this election will be a big test. Can Beijing and Washington manage tensions or will they move toward

more confrontation or even conflict? Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, an Arctic blast of weathers hitting the mid-western part of the United States. We'll have the very latest on the

storm just ahead.


SOARES: More than 150 million people across the U.S. are bracing for another strong winter storm. The Arctic air could make some temperatures

feel like 30 below zero Fahrenheit. Blizzard-like conditions are expected across many portions of the Midwest. In cities like Chicago, residents

already digging out, but even more snow is expected. More than 100,000 residents across Illinois and Wisconsin are without power. And in the state

of Iowa, there are just three days, this is very important, three days until the Republic caucuses for the 2024 election. The many voters may have

a hard time getting out with Friday's snow and bitter cold rain expected later in the week.


Well, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says it will order the Boeing 737 MAX 9 production line and its suppliers focusing on quality

control. The announcement comes one week after the dramatic, if you remember, in-flight incident on Alaska Airlines flight 1282 when part of a

dual plug was blown off the side of the aircraft. There was no mention of when the Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane may return to service. We'll stay on top of

the story.

Now, it may not sound like an award you like to win, but one woman in Tasmania has been crowned the winner of the first ever, get this, world's

ugliest lawn competition. This is Kathleen Murray's garden. It's pretty dry as you can see. It has some deep difference, thanks to a few marsupials,

but the competition isn't just a bit of fun. It was created by a region in Sweden to encourage people to save water and change the norm for lush green

lawns. Kathleen says she's proud she's won and that she's now liberated from ever mowing the lawn again. That is one good, very good reason not to

water your garden.

And that does it for us for this evening. Thanks very much for your company. Do stay right here. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS is up next. I shall see

you on Monday. Have a wonderful weekend. Bye-bye.