Yemen's Houthis claim they targeted UAE ship as 'warning' to Israel - analysis

In the past, the Houthis, who received weapons and support from Iran, have generally slammed Israel and put up antisemitic statements “cursing the Jews,” but haven’t attacked Israel.   

Newly recruited Houthi soldiers march during the funeral of Houthi fighters killed during recent fighting against government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen, December 6, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)
Newly recruited Houthi soldiers march during the funeral of Houthi fighters killed during recent fighting against government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen, December 6, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)

Iranian media claimed an “exclusive interview with senior Yemeni official,” had revealed that the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen seized an “Emirati ship” as a “warning to Israel.”

This would be a major shift for the Houthis to actively seek to strike at ships linked to the UAE and also claim they are confronting Israel or sending a warning through actions.

In the past, the Houthis, who received weapons and support from Iran, have generally slammed Israel and put up antisemitic statements “cursing the Jews,” but haven’t attacked Israel.   

Concerns about the Houthi threats to Israel go back years. There were reports in January 2021 that a new Iranian drone called a Shahed 136 had been spotted in Yemen from satellite photos and that it had a range that could reach Israel.

The Houthis have targeted ships in the past, and Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 to stop the Houthis from conquering Aden.  

 Followers of the Houthi movement carry a mock drone during a rally held to mark the Ashura in Saada (credit: NAIF RAHMA / REUTERS) Followers of the Houthi movement carry a mock drone during a rally held to mark the Ashura in Saada (credit: NAIF RAHMA / REUTERS)

“According to the international group Tasnim News Agency, the seizure of the Emirati ship carrying military equipment in Yemeni waters by the Ansarullah [Houthi] movement is one of the most obvious developments in the Yemeni war in early 2022, which once again shifted the balance of power in favor of the Yemenis,” the Iranian media said.

Iran calls the Houthis “Yemenis” and refers to the Houthis as the government of Yemen.

Recently, Iran’s ambassador to the Houthis, who was allegedly an IRGC representative, died of COVID-19.

Iran cares deeply about its footprint in Yemen. This footprint threatens the Bab Al-Mandeb straits and can threaten the Red Sea.  

A spokesperson of the Houthis revealed details of a recent operation to Iranian media. He claimed the Houthis had detained a ship linked to the UAE and was trying to transfer it to Yemen.

The Houthis acted based on “accurate intelligence data; In terms of knowledge of the mission of this ship and its cargo, as well as monitoring and tracking the destination of the ship and its hostile activities in the territorial waters of Yemen,” the Houthis claims.  

The Houthis also claimed this was a new type of operation “because the Emirati ship was seized without direct military confrontation and casualties, and this is a mystery that has astonished the [Saudi-led coalition]."

The Houthis claim their operation has shocked those it is fighting. This apparently relates to both Saudi Arabia and groups backed by the UAE in Yemen. The Houthis presented audio and video of the raid on the ship and claim the images are a “negative impact on the aggressors.” 

This was an “unprecedented” operation the Houthis claim. It came after “close monitoring and information [acquired] on the activities of the [ship] in UAE territorial waters and international waters.” The Houthis claim they tracked this “hostile naval vessel.”  

Of interest, the report claims that “this operation has military dimensions for the aggressor coalition and a clear message to the Israeli enemy that any military action against Yemen means that Israeli naval vessels and bases where the regime trains mercenaries will be destroyed. And that the movements of the Zionist enemy in the Yemeni islands will not last long and will not go unanswered.”

This is a warning to Israel.

Over the last year, reports indicate that Iran has attacked several merchant ships in waters off the UAE and Oman, targeting a tanker in July 2021 with drones. Iran appears to believe these ships are linked to Israel. The Wall Street Journal also reported last year that Israel had struck at Iranian ships bound for Syria. In addition, a ship allegedly linked to the IRGC and acting as a “mother ship” was attacked last year in the Red Sea. This ship was called the Saviz. Iranian media has also spread rumors in the past about Israel working with the UAE, including allegations by Press TV “Israel espionage alliance on Yemen’s Socotra island.” 

The Houthis now claim that the recent incident might lead to more operations. “The details of this response cannot be disclosed, due to the success of any future deterrent.”

Now the Houthis are also claiming that “any hostile military activity in Yemeni waters will be met with a direct response, and Yemeni waters will never be a scene for hostile movements, and the Yemeni [Houthi] navy is capable of carrying out such operations with God's help.”

The report clearly states that this means the Houthis are monitoring “hostile targets” and “merchant ships.”  

The conflict at sea between Iran and its adversaries has grown since 2019. Iran had used drones and fast boats to harass US ships from the 5th Fleet in the past. Since 2019, Iran minded ships off Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman in May and then attacked two ships in June 2019. In 2017, the Houthis used a missile against a Saudi ship.

Iran has also built a mock US aircraft carrier to sink in military naval drills. It has experimented with new drones and missiles in naval drills. It has also done joint drills with Russia and China. Iran sent two ships to Russia, sailing them around Africa, last year. Iran also exports gasoline to Venezuela and Syria.

In July 2019, Iran clashed with the UK after the UK briefly detained an Iranian ship and Iran then detained a British tanker in response. Iran has also used agents to commit forms of piracy, absconding with the Gulf Sky tanker and also a Vietnamese tanker in 2021. It also seized a South Korean tanker in January 2021 and then released it months later.

As mentioned above, Iran has also been behind attacks on roll-on-roll-off cargo ships such as the Helios Ray last year. The US Navy stopped a ship in December 2021 that had arms from Yemen destined for the Houthis. In May 2021 the US Navy fired warning shots at Iranian boats harassing the US ships.