The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have increasingly escalated their threats to Israel in the wake of the Hamas attack on October 7. They have used drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
On November 14, the IDF said that after sirens were heard in Eilat, “a missile launch toward Israeli territory was identified and successfully intercepted by the Arrow Aerial Defense System in the area of the Red Sea.”
Israel said that the target did not cross into Israeli territory, and was intercepted according to protocol. However, the Houthis now say they could expand their threats and attacks to target Israeli ships in the Red Sea.
Can the Houthis threaten Israeli ships in the Red Sea?
The website The New Arab reported that Houthi “Rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said the Iran-backed group was monitoring for Israeli vessels in the commercially vital waters, even those that do not have Israeli flags.” The Houthis leader also said on the Houthi television station Al Masirah that “our eyes are open to constant monitoring and searching for any Israeli ship.” He claimed they could also threaten ships at the Bab al-Mandab straits. This strategic chokepoint is important for ships entering the Red Sea.
The Houthis have targeted ships in the past during their war in Yemen when the Saudis were involved in the war. They have not threatened Israeli ships as directly or publicly in the past. However, Iran-based drones have been used to attack ships in the Gulf of Oman.
Iran claimed in several incidents to target commercial ships that Iran believed were linked to Israel. The world of commercial shipping is complex and many ships do not sail under the same flag of the owner or manager of a ship. That means there are very few ships that actually fly an Israeli flag, and the ownership or management of shipping is often complex and global.
Nevertheless, Iran had shown in the past its willingness to target ships near the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf that it believed were linked to Israel. It has also targeted other ships, including those of western countries, Greece, South Korea and the UK.
Al-Ain media in the Gulf also reported the Houthi threats on Tuesday, November 14. “Al-Ain News revealed that the leader of the Houthi militia received ‘a preliminary assessment from military experts in Hezbollah stating that the Houthi missile bombardment with ballistic missiles or drones on Israel did not achieve any acceptable results, even on the moral side.’”
The Houthis apparently have evaluated their attacks over the last month and they realized that they needed to escalate. “The evaluation included many proposals, including the need for the Houthi militias to identify possible Israeli targets that have a greater impact on the Israeli local level, whether inside or outside Israel.” The sources told Al-Ain that the “militia leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi directed his senior military leadership to develop a plan to target Israel and its interests in the Red Sea, whether commercial or military.”
The Houthi decision to threaten Israel is not entirely new. The organization calls for “death to Israel” and “curse the Jews” in its official slogan. It has threatened Israel in the past.
Several years ago it also hosted Iranian Shahed 136 drones. The drones were in Yemen in January 2021, according to analysis of satellite photos by foreign media. These drones can reach 2,000 km. and threaten Eilat. Iran then exported these types of drones to Russia in 2022 to support Putin’s war on Ukraine.
The Houthis used drones and long range missiles to threaten Saudi Arabia after Riyadh intervened in Yemen in 2015. However, Iran and Saudi Arabia reconciled this year under Chinese backing and the Houthis have toned down their anti-Saudi rhetoric. They have now sought to join the Hamas war against Israel. This is one of many Iranian-backed groups that sought to back Iran’s plan for a war in the Middle East.
According to reports there were two more attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria over the last two days, bringing the overall number of attacks targeting US forces to around 55 since October 7. Al-Mayadeen, which is pro-Iran, said attacks targeted the Conoco facility in Syria and Assad base in Iraq. These are two areas where US forces are present. The US has carried out three rounds of airstrikes in response to more than 50 attacks.