Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed control of the cargo ship Galaxy Leader in the southern Red Sea, escalating tensions in the region. The Houthis assert the ship is Israeli, while Israel identifies it as British-owned and Japanese-operated with no Israeli nationals on board. The vessel, partly owned by an Israeli businessman, was en route from Turkey to India.
Houthi Seizure and Alleged Israeli Connection
The Houthi rebels, who control northern Yemen and its Red Sea coast, reported taking control of the Galaxy Leader. They claim the seizure is in response to what they describe as “heinous acts” against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The ship, reportedly linked to Israeli businessman Abraham Ungar, raises concerns about the broader impact of the Yemen conflict on international maritime security.
Conflicting reports about the ship’s ownership highlight the complexities of international shipping. While the vessel is associated with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Ungar, Israel denies any involvement in the ship’s ownership or operation. International shipping often involves intricate networks of management companies, flags, and owners, making it challenging to establish clear lines of ownership and responsibility.
Houthi-Israel Dynamics and Recent Attacks
The Houthis have been actively involved in the Israel-Gaza conflict, launching missile and drone attacks since October 7. Last week, they issued warnings about targeting Israeli ships in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The seizure of the Galaxy Leader aligns with their threat to consider any ship connected to Israel or its supporters as a legitimate target.
Israel, denying any connection to the ship’s ownership, operation, or crew makeup, attributes the incident to “Iranian acts of terrorism.” While providing no evidence of Iran’s involvement, Israel claims the attack has significant implications for global maritime security. The Israeli Prime Minister’s office alleges an escalation in Iran’s aggression against the free world, emphasising potential consequences for international shipping routes.
Iran Dismisses Accusations
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, dismissed these claims as “invalid” and labelled them as a “projection” aimed at diverting attention from Israel’s situation. Kanani emphasised that regional resistance groups, including the Houthis, operate independently in their countries’ interests.
Global Reactions and Calls for Release
Japan, whose company Nippon Yusen operates the seized vessel, strongly condemned the Houthi seizure. The Japanese government and the United States have called for the immediate release of the ship and its multinational crew. The United States considers the Houthi action a flagrant violation of international law and pledges to consult with UN partners on appropriate next steps.
The Houthi seizure of the Galaxy Leader highlights the volatile situation in the Red Sea, intertwined with the broader Israel-Gaza conflict. As diplomatic efforts unfold and global powers respond, the incident raises concerns about the potential spillover effects and the complex dynamics shaping maritime security in the region. The immediate release of the ship and crew remains a priority amid escalating tensions.