Israel said Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in a crucial Red Sea shipping route on Sunday and took its 25 crew members hostage, raising fears that regional tensions heightened over the Israel-Hamas war were playing out on a new maritime front. Israeli officials dubbed it an ‘act of Iranian terrorism’ with international implications.
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels said they hijacked the ship over its connection to Israel and would continue to target ships in international waters that were linked to or owned by Israelis until the end of Israel’s campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
“All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis said.
As per an AP report, ownership details in public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers. This was founded by Abraham “Rami" Ungar – known as one of the richest men in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said 25 crew members of various nationalities, including Bulgarians, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Ukrainians but no Israelis, had been on board the hijacked Bahamas-flagged ship.
Netanyahu’s office condemned the seizure of the Galaxy Leader, a vehicle carrier, as an “Iranian act of terror.” The Israeli military called the hijacking a “very grave incident of global consequence.”
“We are treating the crew in accordance with Islamic norms and principles,” said Yemen’s Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree in a statement later on Sunday.
He renewed the warning that any ship belonging to Israel or those who support it would be a legitimate target for Houthi forces.
“We confirm our continuation of military operations against [Israel] until the aggression and ugly crimes against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank stop,” said Saree.
Netanyahu’s office condemned the seizure as an “Iranian act of terror.” The Israeli military called the hijacking a “very grave incident of global consequence.”
“This is another Iranian act of terrorism that represents an escalation in Iran’s belligerence against the citizens of the free world, with concomitant international ramifications vis-a-vis the security of global shipping routes,” said a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
“There were no Israelis on the ship,” it said.
The Red Sea, stretching from Egypt’s Suez Canal to the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, remains a key trade route for global shipping and energy supplies.
Since 2019, a series of ships have come under attack at sea as Iran began breaking all the limits of its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. As Israel expands its devastating campaign against Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip following the militant group’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel, fears have grown that the military operations could escalate into a wider regional conflict.
Image source: AP