Israel said on November 19 that Yemen’s Houthis (Ansar Allah) had seized a British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo ship in the southern Red Sea, describing the incident as an “Iranian act of terrorism” with consequences for international maritime security.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said a ship had been seized, and stressed that Israel was not involved in its ownership, operation or the make-up of its international crew.
“There were no Israelis on the ship,” the office said in a statement. “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.”
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said in an earlier statement that the Houthis had seized a cargo ship in the southern Red Sea as it was sailing from Turkey to India, calling it “a very grave incident on a global level.”
“The ship departed Turkey on its way to India, staffed by civilians of various nationalities, not including Israelis. It is not an Israeli ship,” the IDF said in a social media post.
Three United States officials identified the ship as Galaxy Leader and told NBC News that the Houthis used a helicopter to capture it.
Another official from the U.S. Department of Defense told Al-Arabiya English: “We’re aware of the situation and are monitoring it closely.”
Meanwhile, Yemeni sources told Al-Mayadeen TV that 52 people who were aboard the seized ship were apprehended and are currently being investigated. The sources didn’t clarify if any of them were Israeli citizens. However, the news channel said that the ship was partly owned by an Israeli businessman.
The Houthis are part of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” which is backed by Iran and opposes Israel. Since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, the Houthis have been launching attacks with missiles and drones against Israel.
Last week, the Houthi leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, said that his forces would launch more attacks against Israel and they could target Israeli ships in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis, but earlier, Brigade General Yahya Sarea, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement that all ships owned or operated by Israeli companies or carrying the Israeli flag will be targeted. The spokesman also called on all countries to withdraw their citizens working on the crews of any such ships.
The seizure of Galaxy Leader could lead to a serious escalation, even if none of the crew were Israelis. The U.S. could further increase its military presence in the Bab al-Mandab Strait or even launch some military operation against the Houthis.