Posted on December 18, 2023
Yemen’s Houthi rebels warned that ships “from any nationality” heading to Israel “will become a legitimate target for our armed forces”.
The announcement by Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sare’e marked an escalation in the group’s militant activities in the Red Sea.
Ship hijackings aside, the Houthis have fired drones and missiles at Israel itself, including the key southern port city of Eilat.
The Houthis have concentrated attacks on the 18-mile-wide Bab al-Mandab Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes located between Yemen and Djibouti, linking the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean.
Without access to this lane, cargo ships will be forced to circumnavigate the Horn of Africa – prompting a rise in oil consumption and, ultimately, consumer prices.
A US response?
The Houthis also hit three commercial ships with ballistic missiles on 3 December.
The USS Carney, a US Navy destroyer, shot down a drone and killed five militants “in self-defence”, according to a statement from the US Central Command.
Despite the recent expansion of the CTF-153, a Red Sea-focused security force operated by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), analysts have said the Houthis’ aggression has largely gone unanswered.
“Expansion of CTF-153 should not be conflated with deterrence”, Middle East Institute scholar Jason Brodsky said on X (formerly Twitter). “The latter is needed in addition to the former”.
Saudi Arabia has implored the US to exercise restraint in its response to the Iran-backed Houthis attacks.
UKMTO accuses Houthis of impersonation
On Friday (8 December), the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) warned of unidentified individuals in the Red Sea attempting to commandeer vessels by claiming to be “Yemeni authorities”.
The UKMTO, which coordinates between commercial shipping firms and the UK Royal Navy, said this latest incident took place near the port of Hodeidah on Yemen’s western coast.
The Houthis, who control western Yemen including the capital Sana’a, declared war on Israel in response to ongoing conflict in Palestine.
The Islamist group first threatened Israeli ships on 14 November, before releasing a widely viewed video of Houthi soldiers hijacking an allegedly Israeli-owned ship five days later.