After several weeks of sporadic attacks on Red Sea shipping, Iran-backed Houthis of Yemen have threatened all ships in addition to US and Israeli vessels.
Houthis’ Information Minister Dhaif Allah (Dhaifullah) Al-Shami said Sunday that their forces will attack sensitive targets of Israel and US in the region if they move to act against the Houthis. Bragging about their attacks on vessels, he claimed that these are in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
Palestinian Islamist militia Hamas, another Iran-backed group, declared war on Israel on October 7 in a surprise attack that they codenamed Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, killing over 1,200, mostly civilians and taking about 250 hostages. In retaliation, Israel has been pounding the enclave to uproot Hamas, which has made the war exceedingly bloody hiding deep among the civilian population and underneath the coastal sliver’s non-military facilities.
Al-Shami’s remarks came a day after General Yahya Saree, the military spokesman for Houthi rebels, warned that they would target all ships heading to Israel, regardless of their nationality. He also warned all international shipping companies against dealing with Israeli ports. “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.”
The Houthis have attacked and seized several Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea and its Bab al-Mandab strait, a sea lane through which much of the world’s oil is shipped, and fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel.
According to Israeli media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly told US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that if they do not take military action against the Houthis soon, Israel will. The US government’s reaction to attacks on vessels in the Red Sea has been a mixture of blaming Iran and downplaying the threat to the US Navy.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that senior Israeli defense officials have intelligence that Iran is urging their regional allies, such as Hezbollah and the Houthis, to increase their attacks and pressures against Israel.
Al-Shami described the threat by the Houthis’ military spokesman as “historic,” claiming that targeting ships belonging to other countries is the next phase to put pressure on Israel after the first phase of targeting Israeli-linked ships. “This statement is a historic declaration for Yemen; a country that has been under siege and attack, facing ruthless and rebellious forces for nine years. Yet today, it rises in support and assistance to the oppressed in Gaza and throughout Palestine.”
Earlier in the day, France’s defense ministry said a French warship operating in the Red Sea has shot down two drones that were launched at it from the Yemen coast. On Friday, British officials warned shipping in the Red Sea to “exercise caution.” In another one of the latest incidents, three commercial vessels came under attack in international waters last week, prompting a US Navy destroyer to intervene. The Houthis, which rule much of Yemen and its Red Sea coast, also seized last month a British-owned cargo ship that had links with an Israeli company.
The Houthis are one of several Iran-backed militant groups in the Middle East. They have been effectively in a state of war with Saudi Arabia since 2015 and have claimed support for Palestinians since the Hamas terror attack on Israel on October 7. Iran supports Hamas but says it did not play any role in the Islamist militants’ terror attack that triggered the current crisis. Tehran also denies involvement in the recent attacks on vessels in the Red Sea. Iran also backs the Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that has deep ties with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction in Gaza that is also backed by Iran.
Iran’s current war strategy is employing proxy forces to target Israel, Israeli assets, and US military installations in the region. Since the October 7 attack, Tehran has been warning of the spillover of the conflict in case of a regional escalation, but at the same time cheers attacks against Israel and the United States.