A new front against Israel opens in the Red Sea. The alert came on November 20 through the head of diplomacy of the European Union after an event in this area where tensions are growing: “reports of a ship hijacked by the Houthis are another worrying sign of a risk of regional spillover,” Josep Borrell was alarmed after a meeting with the 27 foreign ministers. What really happened? L’Express takes stock.
The Yemeni Houthis, armed wing of Iran
Since October 19, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, supported and armed by Iran, had already sent missiles and kamikaze drones towards Israel. The Jewish state had intercepted them all before they reached their goals. These shots were claimed on November 8, at the time when the Houthis officially declared war on Israel due to the country’s military response on the Gaza Strip following the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7. Almost a week later, on Tuesday November 14, the Houthi government in Yemen warned that it intended to attack Israeli ships in the Red Sea. “Our eyes are open to constantly monitor and search for any Israeli vessel,” their leader, Abdel Malek al-Houthi, declared on Tuesday.
And it’s done. The Houthis seized a commercial boat chartered by a Japanese group but owned by an Israeli businessman. Contrary to what they had initially announced, no Israelis are on board the commercial ship which has 25 people. In a video released by the rebels, we see a helicopter land on the deck of the boat and around ten armed men descend from it to attack the pilot cabin. The Houthis then convoyed the ship to the port of al-Salif in Hodeidah, Yemen.
An international policy serving local interests
Japan “communicates with Israel and, in addition to direct contacts with the Houthis, we urge Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran and other relevant countries to insist that the Houthis promptly release the ship and crew members,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said Monday.
Benyamin Netanyahu’s office “strongly condemned the Iranian attack against an international ship”, affirming that the boat had been “hijacked under the direction of Iran by the Yemeni Houthi militia”. Iran has rejected these accusations.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office also indicated on Sunday that the cargo ship belonged to a British company and was operated by a Japanese group. For its part, the maritime security company Ambrey specified that the owner of the boat was “Ray Car Carriers”, whose parent company belongs to Israeli businessman Abraham Rami Ungar. The Houthis, who control war-torn western Yemen, “will continue to carry out military operations against the Israeli enemy until the aggression against Gaza and the heinous crimes against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank “stop,” warned Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree on X (formerly Twitter).
For some, the Houtis’ objective would above all respond to an internal political strategy. According to Ahmed Mosibly, quoted by the newspaper of the southern capital of Yemen Aden Al Ghadthey seek to “take control of one of the international trade routes” in order to be able to “suffocate the Arab countries”.
The Houthis are in fact facing former loyalists supported by Saudi Arabia, which has been waging war against them since 2015 to drive them from power. Since last September, that is to say before the surprise attack of Hamas against Israel, the two parties seemed close to an agreement to end their hostilities. For several analysts, the Houthis are thus consolidating their international presence in order to strengthen their positions during negotiations with Saudi Arabia.