A cargo ship en route from Turkey to India was hijacked by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. The rebels claimed the vessel was Israeli, but the Israeli government denied the claim and blamed Iran for endangering global shipping lanes.

Red Sea
This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows Houthi forces boarding the cargo ship Galaxy Leader, November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

In a recent incident in the southern Red Sea, a cargo ship named Galaxy Leader, en route from Turkey to India, was hijacked by Houthi rebels. The rebels, who control northern Yemen and its Red Sea coast, claimed the vessel was Israeli, but the Israeli government promptly denied the assertion and instead pointed fingers at Iran for jeopardizing global shipping lanes.

The Houthi rebels, in a statement, declared, “All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets.” Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesperson, emphasized that the detention of the ship sends a strong message about the Yemeni armed forces’ commitment to maritime operations, regardless of the associated costs.

Contrary to the rebels’ claim, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office clarified that the vessel, Galaxy Leader, was owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese firm. The crew of 25 individuals did not include any Israelis, with members hailing from Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and Mexico.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office firmly rejected the hijacking claim and attributed the incident to Tehran, accusing Iran of endangering vital global shipping routes. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, characterized the event as a “very serious” global occurrence, emphasizing the ship’s international civilian crew composition.

Media reports have indicated that the vessel is under the ownership of Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, a prominent figure known as one of the wealthiest individuals in Israel, based on ownership details in public shipping databases.

This incident represents a notable escalation in the threat posed by the Houthi rebels against global maritime shipping. Earlier, the rebels had urged other countries to withdraw their citizens working on Israeli vessels via social media. The Houthis are believed to be receiving support from Iran, including training, technical expertise, and advanced weaponry, raising concerns about the broader implications of this conflict on maritime security.

In a stunning turn of events, the Galaxy Leader, a cargo ship bound for India from Turkey, found itself at the center of a geopolitical storm as Houthi rebels seized control in the southern Red Sea. The rebels, based in northern Yemen, claimed the vessel was Israeli, threatening that all ships associated with the “Israeli enemy” would be deemed legitimate targets. The situation escalated quickly, with Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdul-Salam asserting that this move was a tangible demonstration of the Yemeni armed forces’ commitment to maritime battles, regardless of the potential repercussions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office swiftly rejected the claim, clarifying that the Galaxy Leader was owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese firm. The crew, consisting of 25 members, had no Israelis on board, according to official statements. The international composition of the crew, including individuals from Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and Mexico, highlighted the diverse nature of the shipping industry and the global implications of such a hijacking incident.

Amidst these conflicting narratives, the Israeli government placed blame squarely on Tehran, accusing Iran of jeopardizing global shipping lanes. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, emphasized the gravity of the situation, characterizing the hijacking as a “very serious event on a global level.” The incident marked a significant escalation in the ongoing conflict, with Houthi rebels posing a heightened threat to international maritime security. As the situation unfolded, reports indicated that the cargo ship was under the ownership of Ray Car Carriers, led by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, a prominent figure in Israel’s business landscape.

The Houthi rebels’ actions were not isolated but appeared to be part of a broader strategy, as they had previously threatened to strike Israel in response to the conflict with Hamas. This latest episode underscored the rebels’ growing capabilities, supported by training, technical expertise, and sophisticated weaponry, including drones and missiles, allegedly supplied by Iran. The call on social media for other countries to withdraw their citizens working on Israeli vessels added a diplomatic dimension to the maritime tensions, further complicating the already delicate geopolitical landscape. The incident in the Red Sea had far-reaching implications, raising concerns about the safety of international shipping routes and the potential for further escalations in the region.

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