Analysis: Houthi boat attacks open new front against Israel

By Jon Gambrell | Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The helicopter-borne Houthi attack on an Israel-linked ship in the Red Sea highlights the danger now lurking in one of the world’s key shipping routes as the Israel-Hamas war rages, as well as the rebels’ tactics mirroring those of its chief sponsor, Iran.

While Tehran has denied aiding the Yemen rebel group in launching their attack Sunday, the targeted ship before the assault passed by an American-sanctioned Iranian cargo vessel suspected as serving as a forward spying base in the Red Sea. The rebels, dressed commando-style in bulletproof vests carrying assault rifles, covered each other and moved in military formation before quickly seizing control of the bridge of the Galaxy Leader.

While their body-camera footage serves as a propaganda coup to bolster their own position in Yemen amid some protests against their rule, it also signals a new maritime front has opened in a region long focused on the Persian Gulf and its narrow mouth at the Strait of Hormuz. It also puts new pressure on commercial shippers traveling through those waters, threatens to increase insurance costs that will get passed onto consumers and likely further stretches the U.S. Navy as it tries to serve as the region’s security guarantor.

“This has all the signs these people were trained by a professional military, which could clearly be Iran,” an American defense official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “This looks like something we haven’t seen before.”

It’s not just the U.S. and Israel suspecting Iranian involvement, however.

The risk intelligence firm RANE referred to the tactics employed by the Houthis as reminiscent of those used by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard when seizing vessels in the past over years of tensions regarding Tehran’s collapsed nuclear deal with world powers. Ambrey, a private intelligence firm, similarly referred to the operation as an “Iranian-style vessel seizure” that “provides the Houthis with a negotiation lever” in much the same way Hamas’ taking of some 240 hostages in their Oct. 7 attack on Israel did.

“The incident displayed a significant increase in the Houthis’ capability to disrupt merchant shipping,” Ambrey said. “In the past, the Houthis had only used sea mines, missiles and remote-controlled improvised explosive devices in the Red Sea.”

It added: “The sophistication of the operation suggests that Iranian involvement is highly likely.”

The Galaxy Leader, linked to Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rami” Ungar, also passed by the Iranian cargo vessel Behshad before the attack Sunday, according to satellite imagery first reported by the firm Tanker Trackers.

The Behshad has been in the Red Sea since 2021 off Eritrea’s Dahlak archipelago. It arrived there after Iran removed the Saviz, another suspected spy base in the Red Sea that had suffered damage in an attack that analysts attributed to Israel amid a wider shadow war of ship attacks in the region.

Satellite images Tuesday from Planet Labs PBC and analyzed by the AP showed the Galaxy Leader off Yemen’s port city of Hodeida, which is held by the Houthis.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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