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Yemen's Houthi rebels said on Tuesday that they have fired missiles and drones towards Israel in retaliation for the Gaza war, signalling a new front in the conflict by one of the Iran-backed militias in the Middle East.
“Our armed forces launched a large batch of ballistic and winged missiles and a large number of drones at various targets of the Israeli enemy,” said the heavily armed group.
“This operation is the third in support of our oppressed brothers in Palestine, and we will continue to carry out more qualitative strikes with missiles and drones until the Israeli aggression stops.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig Gen Pat Ryder said the Israeli military had shot down the missile.
“We are aware that the Houthis did fire a medium-range ballistic missile or cruise missile targeting Israel. Israel did take it down,” he told reporters.
“This is something that we will continue to monitor. As we’ve said before, we want to prevent a broader regional conflict.”
Despite being 1,600km away, experts have warned that the Yemeni rebels could emerge as a threat to Israel as it expands its military assault in Gaza, more than three weeks after the surprise attack by Hamas.
The militia that holds the capital of war-torn Yemen has been accused by the Pentagon earlier this month of launching a series of missiles and drones that were intercepted by a US Navy ship in the Red Sea.
Last week, projectiles struck two Egyptian towns near Israel. Israeli authorities blamed the attack on an “aerial threat” in the Red Sea region, likely referring to the Houthis, who control northern Yemen and parts of its western coast.
On Tuesday, Israel's air defence systems intercepted a missile launched from the Red Sea region, its army said. Jets also shot down other targets, it added.
The claim by the Houthis is the first since the beginning of the conflict and marks an escalation in the multilayered conflict.
“This is an escalation, a new front opening, as Iran threatens with a regional response while Israel intensifies its attack,” Maged Al Madhaji, co-founder of the Sanaa Centre for Strategic Studies, told The National.
Yemen’s rebels have bolstered their fighting capabilities since the civil war erupted in the country in 2014, posing a serious threat to its neighbours.
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.
“Houthis can handle the price more than any other Iran ally in the region – they will pay the cheapest price” to any retaliation, Mr Al Madhaji said.
The launch of the missiles and drones coincides with pro-Iranian militant groups attacking US bases hosting American troops in Syria and Iraq.
Three days after the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed about 1,400 in Israel, the rebels’ leader Abdel-Malek Al Houthi warned that his militia is “ready to engage” with the co-ordination of Iran allies in the region.
Iran said it was “natural” for the Tehran-backed groups to attack Israel in light of its war, warning of a wider spillover if no ceasefire is reached.
The remarks were made on Tuesday by Iran's top diplomat Hossein Amirabdollahian in Qatar's capital Doha, where he met his Qatari counterpart as well as Emir Sheikh Tamim to discuss a push for a diplomatic breakthrough.