Israel war 2023
Dramatic video showed Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen hijacking what they saw was an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea on Sunday – but Israeli officials insist that the vessel has no links to the country.
Armed fighters rappelled onto the deck of the Bahamas-flagged vehicle carrier Galaxy Leader from a helicopter and quickly held the 25 crewmembers at gunpoint, footage released Monday by the Houthi television station Al Masirah showed.
Their entry was notably similar to the method used by Iranian forces during vessel seizures in the Strait of Hormuz, the Times of Israel noted.
One of the rebels could be heard shouting what sounded like the Houthi slogan while he paced the deck.
The act is the first official entry into a foreign war by the Houthis, which was designated as a terrorist group by the US until February 2021.
The seizure is believed to have taken place about 90 miles off the coast of Yemen’s port city Hodeida while the Galaxy Leader was en route from Turkey to India, according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations.
“All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets [until the bombardment of the Gaza Strip ends],” the Houthis said of the hijacking.
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesman, also said in an online statement that the Israeli government only responded to “the language of force.”
“The detention of the Israeli ship is a practical step that proves the seriousness of the Yemeni armed forces in waging the sea battle, regardless of its costs and costs,” he said.
“This is the beginning.”
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the hijacking as an “Iranian act of terror,” while the Israeli military called it a “very grave incident of global consequence.”
Israeli officials also insisted that the Galaxy Leader was actually British-owned and Japanese-operated – though public shipping database records viewed by The Post showed that the ship owners are linked to Ray Car Carriers, which was founded by Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rami” Ungar.
Ungar declined to comment on the incident to The Associated Press, stating that he was awaiting more information.
The ships’ operator, the Japanese-based NYK Line, said the vessel had no cargo on board at the time of the hijacking.
Its crewmembers are from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico, NYK said.
On Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the government would do everything in its power to secure the release of the crew through negotiations with the Houthi rebels.
Japan will also be communicating with Israel and cooperating with the governments of Iran, Oman, and Saudi Arabia during the process, he added.
At the time of the initial announcement, the Houthi rebels said they were treating the Galaxy Leader crew “in accordance with their Islamic values,” but did not explain what that entailed.
The captain and the first mate on the Galaxy Leader are both from Bulgaria, authorities confirmed Monday.
“Nobody has sought contact with us up to this moment,” the country’s top police officer, Zhivko Kotzev, told reporters, adding that the authorities were in contact with the victims’ families.
The Houthis have repeatedly threatened Israeli ships off the Yemeni coast over the past few years, Yemen expert Gregory D. Johnsen said.
The attacks are beneficial to the group’s benefactors in Tehran, and also boost their profile within Yemen, he explained.
The Red Sea trade routes have become increasingly tense since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.
At least twice in the last month, US warships stationed in the area have intercepted missiles or drones from Yemen thought to be targeting Israel or American vessels.
With Post wires