The Yemen-based Houthi militant group released video footage on Monday showing its armed men being dropped from a helicopter on Sunday into a vital Red Sea shipping route and seizing an Israeli-linked cargo ship bound for India . Although the ship was en route to India, it is British-owned and Japanese-operated, according to the Associated Press.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed the hijacking was a response to the ship’s ties to Israel. They announced their intention to target ships belonging to or owned by Israelis in international waters until the end of Israel’s campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers. “All ships belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy will become legitimate targets,” the rebels said.
Yemen’s Houthis have released footage of yesterday’s ship hijacking in the Red Sea. pic.twitter.com/0kJNqrpdcC
– Read Let It Revolutionize You (@JoshuaPHillll) 20 November 2023
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesman, stressed in an online statement that the detention of the Israeli-allied ship shows the Yemeni armed forces’ commitment to the maritime conflict, regardless of the associated costs. He stressed the need for force in dealing with Israel, saying, “This is the beginning.”
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office blamed the Houthis for the attack on the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader. The ship, a carrier belonging to an Israeli billionaire, reportedly had no Israelis on board.
Japan condemned the hijacking, with the ship’s Japanese operator, NYK Line, indicating that the ship had no cargo on board at the time of the incident. The team includes people from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico.
Galaxy Leader was sailing in the Red Sea southwest of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a day earlier after departing from Korfez, Turkey, headed for Pipavav, India. United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations placed the hijacking about 150 kilometers (90 mi) off the coast of Hodeida, Yemen, near Eritrea.
The Houthis have repeatedly threatened Israeli ships in Yemeni waters, a move seen as linking up with their Iranian backers and strengthening their position amid domestic unrest during Yemen’s long civil war. Yemen expert Gregory D. Johnson suggests that the Houthis see attacks on Israel as a means to deflect criticism and strengthen their local position by taking advantage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Background on the Houthi movement:
Originating in the late 1990s, the Houthi family established a revival movement for the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam in far north Yemen. Facing government friction, the movement engaged in guerrilla warfare with the national army and border conflicts with Saudi Arabia. The conflict escalated in late 2014 when the Houthis captured Sanaa. Saudi Arabia intervened in 2015, leading a coalition to support the government. Recent peace efforts have seen relative calm, with Saudi Arabia engaged in negotiations with the Houthis, but an increase in Houthi attacks on Israel has created new risks of conflict for Saudi Arabia.