AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia has stepped up threats to attack Israel-bound ships in the Red Sea, warning that it will view any military escort vessel as a “legitimate target” regardless of nationality.
The latest Houthi threat came only hours before a French navy frigate intercepted and destroyed two drones launched from militia-controlled territory in Yemen.
Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said on Saturday that the militia would consider military vessels providing protection to ships sailing to Israel as legitimate targets, while a militia spokesperson said it would strike Israel-bound shipping regardless of nationality.
“Any military escort of Israeli ships will be considered a threat to the Republic of Yemen’s security, and the armed forces will have the authority to combat this threat,” Al-Houthi said on social media platform X.
The Houthis have intensified their campaign against Israeli shipping in the Red Sea, last month seizing the cargo vessel Galaxy Leader with alleged links to an Israeli businessman, and later launching drones and missiles at commercial and naval ships.
According to the Iran-backed militia, the attacks are meant to put pressure on Israel to stop its military operations in Gaza.
Shortly after the latest Houthi threat, the French Armed Forces Ministry said on Sunday that one of its frigates downed two drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.
“The interception and destruction of these two identified threats” were carried out late on Saturday by the frigate Languedoc, which operates in the Red Sea, the general staff said in a press release.
The interceptions happened at 2030 GMT and 2230 GMT, it added, and were 110 km from the Yemeni coast and the port of Hodeidah.
The drones “were flying directly toward the vessel,” the general staff said.
The Houthis control a substantial portion of the Red Sea coast, including Hodeidah. Other Yemeni coastal areas on the Red Sea and Arabian Sea are controlled by the international recognized Yemeni government.
Elisabeth Kendall, Middle East expert and head of Girton College, University of Cambridge, said the Houthis are intensifying threats against Israeli traffic in the Red Sea in a bid to bolster public support in Yemen, secure concessions from Saudi Arabia in their peace negotiations, and put international shipping and commerce at risk to ensure the Gaza conflict will have far-reaching consequences.
“The Houthi escalation has been carefully calibrated to create a veneer of proportionality,” she told Arab News.
The threat “began as a verbal warning, then turned into the launching of missiles and drones that mostly fell short, and then pivoted to Israeli-linked shipping, and now to all shipping heading toward Israel,” Kendall said.
“This threat by increments is likely designed to gain maximum publicity, to test red lines, and to complicate efforts at resolution,” she added.