The Israeli military said on Sunday that Yemen’s Houthis had seized a cargo ship in the southern Red Sea as it was sailing from Turkey to India, calling this “a very grave incident on a global level”.
In a social media post, the military said that the vessel, which it did not name, was not Israeli-owned and had no Israelis among its crew. Arabic-language media outlets say there are 52 crew members aboard the vessel. Israeli PM’s office says onboard the vessel are 25 crew members of various nationalities including Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Filipino and Mexican.
It is not yet clear how the Houthis mounted the ship, but Journalist Ben Caspit says there was unverified report that they landed on it by helicopter.
The hijacked ship is Galaxy Leader, registered under a British company, which is partially owned by Israeli tycoon Abraham Ungar who goes by Rami. He is the founder of Ray Shipping Ltd., and is known as one of the richest men in Israel. The vessel was leased out to a Japanese company at the time of the hijacking.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement after the hijacking of the ship, calling it “an act of Iranian terrorism that expresses a leap in their aggression”, asserting that “no Israelis were present on the ship and the ship is owned by a British company operated by a Japanese company.”
“This is another Iranian act of terrorism that represents an escalation in Iran’s belligerence against the citizens of the free world, with concomitant international ramifications vis-a-vis the security of global shipping routes.”
In 2021, the Revolutionary Guards attacked the MV Helios Ray in the Gulf of Oman. There was no retaliation after the attack on the vessel, which was also owned by Tel-Aviv based company called Ray Shipping.
Earlier on Sunday, the spokesman for Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi military, Yahya Sarea, said the group will target all ships owned or operated by Israeli companies or carrying the Israeli flag, according to the group’s Telegram channel. The spokesman called on all countries to withdraw their citizens working on the crews of any such ships.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that “resistance groups allied to Iran are cleverly adjusting pressure” on Israel and its supporters. The ‘resistance’ front or axis is the term coined by the Islamic Republic to describe its logistic, financial and intelligence support for the Syrian regime, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and dozens of militia groups in the region, several of which were created by Iran.
“Resistance groups still have inactivated capacity (for pressure on Israel),” he added.
Last Wednesday, Amir-Abdollahian denied responsibility for a drone attack that was intercepted by the US Navy in the Red Sea. According to the Pentagon, a US Navy warship shot down a drone early Wednesday morning that “originated from Yemen and was heading in the direction of the ship.” Although the Pentagon did not specify who was behind the attack on November 15, the incident occurred after Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen vowed to target Israeli ships in the Red Sea.
Iran-backed Islamist group Hamas launched a surprise terror attack on Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 civilians and taking at least 240 hostages, after which Israel started a massive retaliation against Gaza. It has seen since Iran-backed proxies around the region instigating attacks from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The alleged Houthi attack comes after calls by Iran’s leader Ali Khamenei to ban shipment of oil and food to Israel. His call was repeated by his ultra-hardliner loyalists such as Hossein Shariatmadari, who runs the Kayhan Daily newspaper in Tehran. The firebrand Hossein Shariatmadari called for blocking “maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, the Oman Sea, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal,” in a Kayhan Daily editorial, which is funded by the Supreme Leader.
Prior to this, an Iranian ultraconservative lawmaker also claimed last week that Houthis had targeted Israeli ships after Ali Khamenei had made public statements against Israel.