Houthis Threaten to Target Merchant Ships in Indian Ocean

March 14, 2024 8:50 PM
Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles.

The Houthis plan to attack ships in the Indian Ocean, as they travel toward the Cape of Good Hope, the group announced on Thursday.

Two Houthi spokesmen – Brig. Gen. Yahya Sare’e and Mohammed Abdulsalam – each took to X to post that the Houthis will now target ships linked to Israel traveling in the Indian Ocean on the way to the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa. Commercial vessels have been traversing around the Cape of Good Hope instead of going through the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea due to Houthi attacks on ships.

The Houthis say they are targeting ships linked to Israel, although they have also expanded to include American and British ships in retaliation for joint strikes conducted by the two countries. While statements by Sare’e and Abdulsalam both said the Houthis would target ships linked to Israel in the Indian Ocean, likely, American and British ships will also come under fire.

Despite the Houthi claims, Pentagon officials have said the group is not just targeting Israeli, American or British ships.

“They are putting at risk 12 to 15 percent of the world’s commerce that flows through [the Red Sea]. That doesn’t just impact the United States,” Deputy Pentagon Secretary Sabrina Singh said. “It doesn’t just impact Israel. That affects the entire world, including the people in Yemen.”

The Houthis do have capabilities to shoot into the Indian Ocean, depending on where they launch from in Yemen and where the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden come together, Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told USNI News Thursday.

Their weapons can go at least 650 kilometers, while the drones can go up to 2,000, Ben Taleblu said. But they cannot hit ships that are going around the Cape of Good Hope.

The Houthis have their grievances against Israel and its bombardment of Gaza, but it is now able to act on them because of weapons provided by Iran. As an Iranian proxy group, the Houthis also help Iran expand the conflict to a wider region, which helps them with political gain.

The Houthis have state-level capabilities as a non-state actor, he said.

“The long leash strategy has always been the secret sauce [for Iran],” Ben Taleblu said

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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