Iran-backed Houthis pose renewed threat to Israeli ships

Amid talk of a ceasefire in Gaza and growing pressure on Israel in its operations against Hamas, the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen has increased its verbal threats to target Israeli ships. The group said five days ago that it could target Israeli ships in the Red Sea or the Bab al-Mandab straits, a strategic maritime chokepoint that links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis have already used cruise missiles, a ballistic missile, and drones to target Israel since October 7. The official Houthi slogan is “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews.” It views itself as part of the Iranian-backed axis of groups in the region and has been viewed as a terrorist group by some countries. The US de-listed the Houthis as terrorists in February 2021. Since being delisted they have increased their threats to Israel. Al Masirah, a Houthi-linked news network, said on Sunday that the Houthis “will target all types of ships that carry the flag of the Zionist entity or are operated by or owned by Israeli companies, calling on all countries of the world to withdraw their citizens working on the crews of the enemy entity’s ships, and to avoid shipping on them.” The report says that this is based on the Houthis “religious, national, and moral responsibility to support Gaza.” They accuse Israel of massacring and genocide. The group then lists the kinds of ships they may target. These include, the report says; “ships carrying the flag of the Zionist entity, ships operated by Israeli companies, ships owned by Israeli companies.” Maritime shipping is complex because many shipping companies may own a ship but the ship may fly the flag of a third country due to the complexities of global shipping registries. In the past, Iran has targeted commercial ships using drones in the Gulf of Oman, claiming to target ships linked to Israel. In addition, Iran has used naval mines against ships and used the IRGC to raid ships, usually linked to sanctions issues with the West, or financial disputes. Iran has targeted ships from the US, UK, South Korea and other countries. The Houthis are now increasing their threats to ships. US naval warship the USS Thomas Hudner shot down a drone on Wednesday, November 15. On October 20, the USS Carney also intercepted four cruise missiles and 15 drones in the Red Sea. It is believed these were Houthi attempts to target Israel.