Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels announced on Saturday night that they will target every Israel-bound ship in the Red Sea regardless of the vessel’s ownership.
Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi tweeted: “The Yemeni Armed Forces announce that they will prevent the passage of ships heading to the Zionist entity of any nationality, if they do not enter the Gaza Strip where they need food and medicine, and it will become a legitimate target for our armed forces.”
He added, “Out of concern for the safety of maritime navigation, we warn all ships and companies against dealing with Israeli ports.”
He also threatened ships escorting vessels en route to Israel.
The Houthis have recently targeted ships with Israeli owners—the Galaxy Leader, which was brought to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, and the Central Park, whose hijacking was thwarted by USS Mason. During the hijacking of the Central Park, a missile was fired at the Mason from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen.
From bases along the Yemeni coast, Houthi rebels are able to threaten shipping in the Red Sea as they traverse the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a narrow maritime choke point between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The majority of the world’s oil passes through the strait from the Indian Ocean towards the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea.
The United States has been consulting with Gulf allies about potential military action against the Houthis in response to their attacks, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing officials with knowledge of the discussions.
The talks are at a “preliminary stage” as Washington and its partners still favor diplomacy over direct confrontation, according to the report.
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration has asked Israel not to respond to Houthi attacks lest it spark a wider regional conflict.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Saturday night that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless told U.S. President Joe Biden that Jerusalem would take military action against the Houthis if the Americans did not act first.
Overnight Saturday, the French Navy said the frigate Languedoc had shot down two drones in the Red Sea coming “straight toward it” from a port city in Yemen controlled by the Houthis.
The Iranian-backed proxy group fired a surface-to-surface missile towards Israel’s southern coastal city of Eilat on Wednesday. It was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow air-defense system.
Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the Houthis have launched several missiles at the Jewish state.
Israel has bolstered its naval presence in the Red Sea area in response to the attacks.