December 10, 2023

The Iranian-backed Houthis have threatened Israel numerous times since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. This is part of a wider campaign across the region by Iranian-backed proxies to threaten Israel. Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria have attacked US forces 60 times.

The Houthis have launched drones, cruise missiles, and a ballistic missile at Israel over the last month and a half. Now the Houthis have attacked a ship in the Red Sea.

The hijacking of a ship in the Red Sea with two dozen crew is a new escalation by Iran and its proxies. Iranian media is bragging about the Houthi attack. Tasnim News in Iran and the pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen have both focused on the hijacking of the Galaxy Leader ship in the Red Sea.

In the past, Iran had mined ships and also hijacked ships using helicopters and small boats.

The IDF said that the “hijacking of a cargo ship by the Houthis near Yemen in the southern Red Sea is a very grave incident of global consequence. 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 Iran-backed Houthis said on Sunday morning that they would “target all types of ships that carry the flag of the Zionist entity, or that are operated by Israeli companies, or that are owned by Israeli companies, in response to the Israeli aggression against Gaza and the genocide against its people.”

The Houthis have expressed support for Hamas over the past years and have threatened to joint Iranian-backed groups to attack Israel. This is part of Iran’s strategy of uniting various fronts against Israel.

In January 2021 Newsweek revealed that Iran had positioned Shahed 136 drones in Yemen. This is the same drone that Iran then exported to Russia. The drone has a range that could reach Israel. This was one of the early concrete threats from Yemen. The Houthis had tried to take over Yemen in 2015 but Saudi Arabia intervened.

The Houthis then became an Iranian test bed for weapons. The Houthis attacked Riyadh with ballistic missiles and also targeted the UAE. They were designated as terrorists by the US but the Biden administration ended that designation in February 2021.

The official slogan of the Houthis is “death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews.”

They are an antisemitic organization as well as being an Iranian-backed proxy. They have attempted to threaten ships at sea in the past, but this usually was directed at Saudi Arabia, the US, or others.

Beginning in May 2019 Iran began attacking ships using mines off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE. It also attacked two ships steaming from the Gulf of Oman toward the Persian Gulf.

Iran tried to seize a British vessel in June 2019 and a British navy vessel had to warn the Iranians to stay away. Iran hijacked the British cargo ship Stena Impero in the summer of 2019 and released it later that year. In 2020 Iran hijacked the Gulf Sky ship off the coast of the UAE and took it to Iran.

In January 2021 it seized a South Korean vessel and released it several months later. In May 2022 it seized two Greek ships and then released them in November. In November 2022 Iran targeted a ship called the Pacific Zircon using drones flown from Chabahar. It was the second time a ship had been attacked by an Iranian kamikaze drone. The Mercer Street ship was attacked in July 2021 and two crew members were killed.

The MV Helios Ray was also targeted in February 2021 and the Lori in March while it was headed for India. According to Al-Alam TV, another ship, the Hyperion Ray was also struck in April 2021 while on the way to Fujairah from Kuwait. Another ship, the Tyndall was allegedly threatened in July 2021.

The attacks on shipping reflect a lack of deterrence. While many countries, such as the US, UK, and France, have sent naval vessels to the region in the past, and even tried to warn off Iranian attacks, there hasn’t been much pushback against Iran for the numerous attacks. This means Iran and its proxies can sit and wait and decide when and where to attack in a massive large area of ocean that is full of tens of thousands of ships.

Iran and its proxies choose a time and place to strike. They don’t usually receive sanctions or condemnation in return. Iran often claims it is targeting certain ships due to sanctions, unpaid debts, or confiscated Iranian regime funds. The Houthis have now escalated this threat. They now claim they will attack ships in the Red Sea. This is a new threat. The Red Sea has some security arrangements.

In the past, the US Navy has drilled in the Red Sea with various partners. However, the Houthi threat was supposed to be reduced after China brokered Iran-Saudi peace. An oil platform was even repaired by the UN, which could only be done with a ceasefire in Yemen. Now the Houthis are back to their old threats and this is a serious escalation. The lack of deterrence is part of a wider phenomenon in the region where Iran and its proxies continue to threaten Israel and the US. They do not appear to be deterred on numerous fronts.