Yemen’s Houthis vow to attack Israeli ships in Red Sea

Heavily armed group has emerged as a threat to southern Israel during the continuing Israel-Gaza war

Members of the Houthi forces gather at a mosque for a televised adress by the Yemeni rebel group's leader, Abdul-Malik Al Houthi, in Sanaa, on Tuesday. EPA
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Yemen's Houthi rebels have vowed to attack Israeli ships in the strategic waters of the Red Sea and to continue striking Israel with missiles and drones, as long as the war in Gaza continues.

The heavily armed group has emerged as a threat to Israel despite being 1,600km away, marking the opening of an off-script front in the conflict by one of the Iran-backed militias in the Middle East.

Both the Houthis and the Hamas group that controls Gaza are supported by Iran.

The Houthis, who are in control of Yemen's capital and some regions amid a civil war, claimed responsibility for a series of missiles and drones that the US Navy and Israeli defence systems intercepted.

The Yemeni rebels’ leader Abdul-Malik Al Houthi vowed on Tuesday to continue with the attacks and to strike Israeli ships passing through the strategic trade and oil tankers’ routes.

“We will continue to plan for additional operations. We can't stop,” he said.

“Our eyes are open. We will monitor and locate Israeli ships in the Red Sea and we will not hesitate to target them.”

Up until the end of 2018, the Houthis frequently used ballistic missiles they captured from army depots.

But in the past five years, they have shifted to small, long-range, explosive unmanned aircraft that can evade radar detection.

Yemen's Houthi rebels claim to down US Reaper drone

Yemen's Houthi rebels claim to down US Reaper drone

The Houthis have also indicated in the past years that they are capable of launching attacks against ships by using remotely controlled boats carrying explosives.

Earlier this month, the Israeli military said it had deployed missile boats in the Red Sea as reinforcements, after the Houthis confirmed they had launched missile and drone attacks on Israel.

Images shared by the Israeli army showed Saar-class corvettes patrolling near Eilat port in the Red Sea, which Israel considers a new front as its war in Gaza draws retaliation from Iran-aligned, pro-Hamas forces elsewhere in the region.

Iran and Israel have previously accused each other of carrying out several attacks on each other's ships in the Red Sea.

The launch of the Houthi missiles and drones coincides with pro-Iranian militant groups attacking US bases hosting American troops in Syria and Iraq.

Last week, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah praised recent attacks by Iran's proxies in Yemen and Iraq, which sparked fears of a regional conflagration.

“If the Americans want these operations against them to stop [in Iraq and Syria], they must stop the aggression on Gaza,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy to Yemen, warned the war in Gaza is threatening progress towards peace in Yemen and the prospect of the country being drawn into the conflict between Israel and Hamas is his “worst fear.”

He later said that peace efforts there must not be wasted as Washington works to contain the war in Gaza from escalating across the Middle East.

Israel’s air strikes and land offensive have killed more than 11,000 people in Gaza, including at least 4,500 children, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

Hamas launched attacks on October 7 in Israel, which killed 1,200 Israeli soldiers and civilians.

The Houthis said on Tuesday that they would continue attacking Israel's interests as long as it is fighting against Hamas in the Palestinian enclave.

“We will spare no effort at the military level with the available means,” Mr Al Houthi said.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 4:30 AM