In escalation, Houthis vow to target all Israel-bound ships in Red Sea

Iran-backed group says attacks will escalate if aid does not reach Gaza; Israeli official: If world does not deal with Houthis, Israel will act

Yemenis wave flags and chant slogans during a pro-Palestinian march in the Houthi-controlled capital Sana'a on December 8, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)
Yemenis wave flags and chant slogans during a pro-Palestinian march in the Houthi-controlled capital Sana'a on December 8, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Yemen’s Houthi rebels said Saturday they would start targeting any ship passing through the Red Sea en route to Israel, regardless of whether the ship’s ownership is linked to the Jewish state, as they continued to escalate attacks amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The Iran-backed rebel group has fired several ballistic missiles and drones at Eilat since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in October, all of which were intercepted or missed their targets. The latest attack came Wednesday when Israel shot down a ballistic missile over the Red Sea.

They have also assaulted a number of ships, thus far targeting vessels allegedly owned by Israeli firms or with ties to Israeli businessmen.

“If Gaza does not receive the food and medicine it needs, all ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces,” Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sare’e announced in a video statement.

Furthermore, Sare’e posted on X that his forces would “prevent [passage of] all the ships heading to the Zionist entity from any nationality, if the food and medicine [are prevented from entering] the Gaza Strip, and [they] will become a legitimate target for our armed forces.

“Out of concern for the safety of maritime navigation, we warn all ships and companies against dealing with Israeli ports,” Sare’e wrote, adding that this was “as a result of the Zionist enemy’s ongoing horrific massacres, genocide, and siege against Palestinians in Gaza.”

Houthi official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said in his post announcing the measure that “no American or other” military forces have the “right” to accompany Israeli ships or ships heading to Israel.

Houthi rebels support the Palestinians and have threatened Israel over the war in Gaza, which erupted after Hamas carried out a devastating cross-border attack on Israel on October 7, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting 240. Israel has vowed to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and release the hostages.

The Biden administration has urged Israel not to respond to recent attacks by the Houthis, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

But Israeli National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said in a Channel 12 interview on Saturday night that if the international community does not deal with the threat posed by the Houthis in Yemen, “Israel will act.” He did not elaborate on what measures would be taken.

US Navy ships have shot down an array of drones headed their way that are believed to have been launched by the terror group from territory it controls in Yemen.

On Sunday, ballistic missiles fired by Houthis struck three commercial ships in the Red Sea, while a US warship shot down three drones in self-defense during an hourlong assault, the US military said.

In November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Missiles also landed near another US warship last week after it assisted a vessel linked to Israel that had briefly been seized by gunmen.

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows Houthi forces boarding the cargo ship Galaxy Leader, November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

But so far, the US has avoided military retaliation — a marked difference from its multiple strikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria that have fired rockets, missiles, and drones at bases housing American forces in both countries.

No one has been reported hurt in the Houthi incidents, although commercial ships suffered some damage.

Houthi rebels swept down from their northern stronghold in Yemen and seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, launching a grinding war. A Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 to try to restore Yemen’s exiled, internationally recognized government to power.

The Houthis are part of the “axis of resistance” against Israel along with Hamas — which is also sponsored by Tehran.

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