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Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants have captured what they called an Israeli ship in the Red Sea and taken it to the Yemeni coast, calling all Israeli vessels a “legitimate target.”
“The Yemeni armed forces reiterate their warning to all ships belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy that they will become a legitimate target for armed forces,” Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree said on social media on Sunday.
He urged the international community to avoid working with Israeli ships or owned by Israeli individuals.
“Yemeni armed forces confirm that they will continue to carry out military operations against the Israeli enemy until the aggression against Gaza stops,” the spokesperson said.
On Monday, Japan’s top government spokesperson confirmed the capture of the Nippon Yusen-operated ship, Galaxy Leader, according to Reuters. Tokyo is now appealing with the Houthis for the release of the vessel and seeking the help of Saudi, Omani and Iranian authorities.
Marinetraffic.com data indicates that the 21-year-old cargo vessel is sailing under the flag of Bahamas.
“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 Israeli military said on social media.
“The ship departed Turkey on its way to India, staffed by civilians of various nationalities, not including Israelis. It is not an Israeli ship.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office qualified the vessel as owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese business, stating no Israeli people were present on the vessel.
“This is another act of Iranian terrorism which expresses a leap forward in Iran’s aggression against the citizens of the free world, and creates international implications regarding the security of global shipping lanes,” Netanyahu said, according to a Google translation.
Iran, which supports the Houthis and Hamas groups that are inimical to Israel, rejected claims of involvement in the ship’s capture, according to Google-translated comments by Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani, carried by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
“We have repeatedly announced that the resistance forces in the region represent their countries and make decisions based on the interests of their country and nation. They act spontaneously,” he said.
Iran is itself no stranger to captures at sea — its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have often hijacked foreign vessels near the Straits of Hormuz for political leverage. Since Oct. 7, Tehran has nevertheless celebrated the feats of the so-called “resistance” militant groups that act against Israel, while keeping its distance and emphasizing their autonomy.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Iran has repeatedly denounced Israel’s campaign in the Gaza Strip, accusing the country of human rights violations and urging Muslim countries to cut ties and impose an oil embargo.
Seizing the ship is a “practical step that proves the seriousness of the armed forces in waging the battle,” Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam said, the main Houthi-run TV outlet, according to a Google translation.
Iran’s involvement and fire exchanges between Israel and the Houthi and Hezbollah groups, as well as the Tehran-backed regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, have escalated concerns that the war against Hamas may ripple into a broader conflict in the Middle East.