Yemen-based Houthi militant group released a video footage on Monday showing its armed men dropped from a helicopter and seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship, bound to India, in a crucial Red Sea shipping route on Sunday. Although the ship was en route to India, it is British-owned and Japanese operated, as per the Associated Press.
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels asserted that the hijacking was a response to the ship’s ties to Israel. They declared their intention to target vessels linked to or owned by Israelis in international waters until the cessation of Israel’s campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers. The rebels stated, “All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets.”
Yemen’s Houthis have released footage of yesterday’s ship hijacking in the Red Sea. pic.twitter.com/0kJNqrpdcC
— Read Let This Radicalize You (@JoshuaPHilll) November 20, 2023
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the chief negotiator and spokesperson for the Houthis, emphasised in an online statement that the detention of the Israeli-affiliated ship signifies the Yemeni armed forces’ commitment to maritime conflict, regardless of the associated costs. He stated, “This is the beginning,” emphasising the necessity of force in dealings with Israel.
In response, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attributed the attack on the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader to the Houthis. The ship, a vehicle carrier linked 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 vessel had no cargo at the time of the incident. The crew comprises individuals from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Mexico.
The Galaxy Leader was travelling in the Red Sea southwest of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, over a day ago, having departed from Korfez, Turkey, and heading to Pipavav, India. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations placed the hijacking approximately 150 kilometres (90 miles) off the coast of Yemen’s Hodeida, near Eritrea.
The Houthis have repeatedly threatened Israeli ships in Yemeni waters, a move seen as aligning with their Iranian supporters and consolidating their position amid domestic discontent during Yemen’s protracted civil war. Gregory D. Johnsen, a Yemen expert, suggests that the Houthis perceive attacks on Israel as a means to deflect criticism and strengthen their local standing, leveraging 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 Shi’ite Islam in far north Yemen. Faced with government friction, the movement engaged in guerrilla wars with the national army and border conflicts with Saudi Arabia. The conflict escalated in late 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa. Saudi Arabia intervened in 2015, leading a coalition to support the government. Recent peace efforts have seen relative calm, with Saudi Arabia engaging in talks with the Houthis, but heightened Houthi attacks on Israel pose new risks of conflict for Saudi Arabia.