In first, IDF confirms Houthi cruise missile hit open area near Eilat on Monday

Iran-backed group also claims to target a Marshall-Islands flagged fuel tanker headed for Saudi Arabia as it passed through the Red Sea shipping route

The Eilat port seen on January 3, 2024. (Yehuda Ben Itach/Flash90)
The Eilat port seen on January 3, 2024. (Yehuda Ben Itach/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed on Tuesday evening that a “suspicious aerial target” that struck an open area near Eilat early Monday morning was a cruise missile.

Yemen’s Houthis claimed responsibility for the missile, which crossed into Israeli airspace from the direction of the Red Sea.

No damage or injuries were caused, and according to the IDF, the missile was tracked by the Air Force throughout the incident.

It marks the first time a Houthi projectile hit Israeli territory. In previous attacks, missiles and drones launched from Yemen struck neighboring countries or were intercepted by air defenses.

The IDF said it is further investigating the incident.

Yemen’s Houthis also targeted a fuel tanker in the Red Sea with naval missiles, the group’s military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a prerecorded statement on Tuesday.

MADO is a Marshall Islands-flagged liquefied petroleum gas tanker heading to Singapore from Saudi Arabia, maritime shipping trackers showed.

The vessel was twice targeted by Houthi fire on March 15 and March 17. Both attacks missed the vessel, causing neither damage nor injuries.

Houthi military spokesman Brigadier Yahya Saree delivers a statement during a rally in Sanaa in solidarity with Palestinians on March 15, 2024, amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

Although the Houthi rebels described the tanker as American, Equasis’s shipping database indicates that it is owned by Naftomar Shipping & Trading Co Ltd of Greece. Naftomar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea last November, a campaign they say is intended to signal solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza amid the war between Israel and Hamas, which began with the terror group’s devastating October 7 assault on southern Israel.

The Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to reroute to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa. The cost of insuring a seven-day voyage through the Red Sea has risen by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beyond economic damage, the attacks have also served to stoke fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to destabilize the wider Middle East.

While the group has claimed it only targets vessels owned by or connected to Israel, it has frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to the country, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.

The US and UK began striking Houthi targets in Yemen in January, but despite this, the rebel group remains undeterred and capable of launching significant attacks.

On Monday night, the US military said it destroyed seven missiles and three drones Monday in areas of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels that presented threats to merchant ships and US Navy vessels.

United States Central Command forces operated “in self defense” when they engaged and destroyed the anti-ship missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as three weapons storage containers in Houthi-controlled areas, CENTCOM said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“It was determined these weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region. These actions are taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy and merchant vessels,” CENTCOM said.

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