Houthi spokesman vows further attacks on Israel

In first, Arrow downs Eilat-bound missile from ‘Red Sea area’; Houthis claim attack

Israeli fighter jets also shoot down drones, in an attack similarly claimed by Iran-backed Yemeni group as response to Hamas war; military says ‘no threat or risk to civilians’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A trail of smoke, apparently from an Israeli air defense missile, is seen over the Eilat area in southern Israel, October 31, 2023. (Courtesy)
A trail of smoke, apparently from an Israeli air defense missile, is seen over the Eilat area in southern Israel, October 31, 2023. (Courtesy)

The Arrow air defense system intercepted a surface-to-surface missile launched from the “Red Sea area” at Israel, the military said Tuesday, in the first operational use of the long-range system during the war with Hamas.

The ballistic missile was believed to have been launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, aimed for the southernmost city of Eilat.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said that air force systems tracked the missile’s trajectory and intercepted it “at the most appropriate operational time and location.” Photos showed a trail of smoke from the Arrow missile, as residents reported hearing a large blast.

The IDF also said fighter jets downed another two “hostile targets” — believed to be drones — that were flying in the Red Sea area during the morning.

“All the threats were intercepted outside the territory of the State of Israel. No intrusion into Israeli territory was detected,” the IDF added.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the missile as well as a number of similar attempted attacks on southern Israel in recent attacks.

Yemenis, some holding the Palestinian flag, gather for prayers in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa on October 27, 2023 (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Yahya Sria, a spokesman for the group, said that the aerial assault, comprising drones as well as ballistic and cruise missiles, was carried out “out of a sense of religious, moral, humanitarian and national responsibility” for the people of Gaza, in the face of the weakness of the Arab world, and of the collusion of some Arab countries with Israel.”

The operation was prompted by “the demands of the Yemeni people,” he added.

Saria noted that this was the third attack carried by the group against Israel since the start of the war, and vowed to carry out further strikes against Israel with missiles and drones.

Earlier Tuesday, Abdelaziz bin Habtour, prime minister of the Houthi government, said that “these drones belong to the state of Yemen.”

The Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014 and control large swaths of the country, are “part of the axis of resistance” against Israel along with Hamas — which is also backed by Tehran — and are fighting with “words and drones,” he added.

Early Wednesday morning, hours after the missile attack, the IDF announced air defense units intercepted another “an aerial threat that was identified in the Red Sea area, south of Eilat.”

The military added there was no threat to civilians and that “no penetration of Israeli territory was identified,” without specifying what was intercepted.

The announcement came shortly after residents of Eilat reported a loud explosion, with video from the Red Sea coastal city showing an interceptor missile. No warning sirens were activated.

It was the latest in a number of attacks thought to originate from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, amid concerns that Israel’s war with Hamas, sparked by the terror group’s murderous assault on October 7, could spread to other fronts.

Suspected drone infiltration sirens sounded in Eilat on Tuesday morning, with the IDF initially saying it had identified an “aerial target” approaching Israeli territory. It later confirmed that fighter jets had intercepted two targets, believed to have been drones launched from Yemen.

Armed Houthi fighters attend the funeral procession of Houthi rebel fighters who were killed in fighting with forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, in Sanaa, Yemen, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

“There was no threat or risk to civilians,” the military said.

Tens of thousands of people displaced by the Hamas assault on southern Israel and Hezbollah attacks on the north are being temporarily housed in the southern resort city.

On Friday a fighter jet intercepted a target over the Red Sea — apparently a drone heading for Israel — shortly after an unmanned aerial vehicle slammed into the Egyptian town of Taba on the Red Sea, wounding six people. The IDF said the early-morning strike in Taba originated from “the Red Sea area,” in an apparent reference to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Taba sits on the border with Israel and is some 10 kilometers (six miles) from Eilat.

This handout picture courtesy of the US Navy taken on October 19, 2023 shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) defeating a combination of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea (Aaron Lau / US NAVY / AFP)

The Egypt blasts came after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attempted to fire missiles at Israel via the Red Sea earlier this month. The Pentagon announced that a US Navy warship intercepted three missiles heading north that had been fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and that they may have been aimed at Israel.

Houthi rebels have expressed support for the Palestinians and threatened Israel amid the Israel-Hamas war. The Iranian-backed group’s slogan is “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam.”

Iran has warned repeatedly that Israel could face wider threats if it does not halt its war against Gazan terrorists, launched after Hamas’s October 7 terrorist rampage through southern Israel, in which 1,400 Israelis were killed, mainly civilians.

Agencies, Gianluca Pacchiani and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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