November 19, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iranian-Backed Houthis Hijack Ship in Red Sea

November 19, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iranian-Backed Houthis Hijack Ship in Red Sea

Latest Developments

The Iranian-backed Houthis hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea hours after they threatened to attack Israeli shipping on November 19. “The hijacking of a cargo ship by the Houthis near Yemen in the southern Red Sea is a very grave incident of global consequence,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. Israel blamed Iran for being behind the attack, noting that the vessel “is not an Israeli ship.” The Bahamas-flagged ship is leased from a British company partially owned by an Israeli businessman to a Japanese company.

A spokesperson for the Houthis said on the morning of November 19, before the hijacking, that the group would target ships that fly Israel’s flag or that are owned and operated by Israeli companies. The Houthis released a statement on their media channel Al-Masirah claiming that this plan comes in response to the war in Gaza and the “brutal Israeli-American aggression” in the region. The IDF said that the hijacked cargo ship, called the Galaxy Leader, had departed Turkey on its way to India.

Expert Analysis

“The Houthis in Yemen have increased their threats in the wake of the Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7. The Houthis feel impunity to use missiles, drones and other threats against Israel and the United States, and to put at risk international shipping in the Red Sea. The group should be re-listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and deterred from further attacks.” — Seth J. Frantzman, FDD Adjunct Fellow

“Iran’s Houthis in Yemen have long posed a serious threat to international commercial shipping, and not just to Israeli vessels. President Biden should order the Houthis re-listed as a foreign terrorist organization.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Houthis Use Drone, Missiles to Attack Israel

The Iran-backed Houthis have aligned with Hamas in the wake of its attack on Israel on October 7. The Houthis attempted to target Israel with drones and missiles on October 19, but the USS Carney, a naval warship in the Red Sea, shot them down. The IDF used F-35s to intercept cruise missiles launched by the Houthis on November 2. On November 10, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it successfully launched an Arrow 3 interceptor to stop a threat from the Red Sea. On November 14, the Houthis threatened to attack Israeli ships in the Red Sea. The next day a U.S. naval warship intercepted a drone over the body of water.

Houthi Threats to Saudi Arabia and the Region

The Houthis have used ballistic missiles and drones to target Saudi Arabia over the last decade. They also attacked the United Arab Emirates in 2022. On October 27, Houthi drones aimed at Israel fell in Egypt, threatening resorts on the Red Sea. The Kingdom of Jordan also warned the Houthis in early November against attacks, because Houthi missiles could threaten Jordanian airspace.

Leader of Yemen’s Houthis states willingness to support ‘Palestinian people,’” by Joe Truzman

Houthis launch third strike against Israel, threaten more attacks,” by Joe Truzman and Bill Roggio

Arrow 3 Intercepts Houthi Missile over Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

International Maritime Security Construct issues warning as Houthis threaten commercial shipping” by Bradley Bowman and Bill Roggio


Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy