Yemen’s Houthi rebels have reportedly seized control of a cargo ship in the southern Red Sea amid escalating tensions in the region due to the Gaza conflict. The Houthis are not recognized by the UN as the Yemeni government but do control a significant part of the country.
According to Al Jazeera, The Houthis claim the ship is Israeli-owned, but Israel insists it is a British-owned and Japanese-operated vessel with no Israeli nationals onboard.
The vessel, named Galaxy Leader and sailing under the flag of the Bahamas, was en route from Turkey to India with approximately 25 people on board. Public shipping databases link the ship’s ownership to Ray Car Carriers, associated with Abraham “Rami” Ungar, one of Israel’s wealthiest individuals. Ungar acknowledged the incident but refrained from commenting until more details emerged. Notably, a ship connected to Ungar experienced an explosion in the Gulf of Oman in 2021, which Israeli media attributed to Iran.
The Houthi military spokesperson, Yahya Saree, stated that the ship’s seizure was a response to alleged Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The Houthis have previously launched missile and drone attacks against Israel, escalating tensions since an attack by Hamas prompted an Israeli offensive on Gaza.
The Houthis had previously warned about targeting Israeli ships in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Saree reiterated that any ship associated with Israel or its supporters would be considered a legitimate target.
Israel, however, denied any involvement in the ship’s ownership, operation, or crew composition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office claimed the incident as an “Iranian act of terrorism,” claiming it had consequences for international maritime security.
The statement did not provide evidence of Iran’s involvement but emphasized that there were no Israelis among the crew members, who hail from Ukraine, Mexico, the Philippines, Bulgaria, and other countries.
Iran, in response to Israeli claims, denied any connection to the incident. Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani asserted that regional resistance groups make decisions based on their own interests, distancing Iran from the alleged Houthi attack on the cargo ship.