Yemen’s Houthi rebels hijacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea and held 25 crew members hostage, Israeli officials said.
The Houthis, who have ties to Iran, confirmed they seized the ship and its crew because of its connection to Israel, according to their military spokesman Yahya Saree.
Saree warned that any ships affiliated with or trading with Israel would be targeted by the Yemeni armed forces, in a statement posted on X, the former Twitter.
He also said the rebels would continue their military operations against Israel until it stopped its campaign against Hamas, the militant group that attacked southern Israel last month, killing more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the hijacking as an act of Iranian terrorism and a sign of Iran’s aggression against the free world, with implications for the security of the global shipping lanes.
His office said the 25 crew members were not Israeli, but from various countries, including Ukraine, the Philippines and Mexico.
Saree said the crew members were treated according to Islamic values, but did not elaborate.
Netanyahu’s office said the ship, named the Galaxy Leader, was owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese firm. However, public shipping records showed the ship’s owners were linked to Ray Car Carriers, a company founded by Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rama” Ungar, the AP reported.
The incident raised concerns about Iran and its proxies using the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which is also backed by Iran, to open a new front against Israel and escalate tensions in the region.
Israel responded to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks with a heavy bombardment of Gaza, the territory controlled by Hamas, and intensified its ground assaults in the north. More than 13,000 Palestinians have died in the violence, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government. These figures have not been independently verified.
A U.S. military official told The Hill that the Houthis’ capture of the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea was a blatant breach of international law and demanded the immediate release of the ship and its crew.
The hijacking followed at least two incidents where U.S. warships intercepted missiles or drones from Yemen that were suspected to be heading towards Israel or U.S. vessels. Last week, a U.S. Navy warship shot down a drone approaching the ship in the southern Red Sea, the AP said.
Last month, the Pentagon said a U.S. Navy destroyer intercepted a volley of missiles fired by the Houthis.
This coincided with a reported increase in attacks on U.S. troops and assets in the Middle East, leading the U.S. to launch a series of retaliatory strikes on Iran and its proxies.