DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Yemen’s Houthi rebels for the first time on Tuesday claimed missile and drone attacks against Israel, bringing their main sponsor, Iran, closer to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and further escalating the risks of a regional conflict breaking out. .
The Houthis were suspected of carrying out an attack earlier this month on Israel by sending missiles and drones over the crucial Red Sea shipping route, an assault in which the US Navy shot down the projectiles.
This time, however, on Tuesday, Israel said its own fighter jets and its new Arrow missile defense system shot down two salvos of incoming fire hours apart as they approached the country’s key seaport, Eilat, on the Sea. Red.
The Houthis, who have controlled Yemen’s capital Sanaa since 2014 as part of that country’s ruinous war, claimed responsibility for three attacks on Israel in a subsequent military statement, without giving further details about the timeline of the operations and whether they will be saved. Tuesday represented one or two attacks.
Beyond the attack in which the United States shot down missiles, a mysterious explosion occurred on Thursday that hit the Egyptian resort town of Taba, near the border with Israel. The explosion, which Egyptian authorities have not explained, injured six people.
“Our armed forces launched a large number of ballistic missiles and a large number of drones against several Israeli enemy targets,” Houthi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree said in a televised statement. “The Yemeni Armed Forces confirm that this operation is the third operation in support of our oppressed brothers in Palestine and confirms that we will continue to carry out more qualitative missile and drone attacks until Israeli aggression ceases.”
For Israel, Tuesday’s attack marked an incredibly rare combat use of the Arrow missile defense system, which intercepts long-range ballistic missiles with a warhead designed to destroy targets while they are in space, according to the Center for Strategic Strategy based in Washington. and International Studies.
“All air threats were intercepted outside Israeli territory,” the Israeli military said. “No infiltrations into Israeli territory were identified.”
However, the missile fire caused a rare air raid siren alarm to sound in Eilat, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Jerusalem, causing people to flee to shelters.
Saree did not identify the specific weapons used in the attack. However, the use of the arrow suggests that it was a ballistic missile. The Houthis have a variant of their Burkan ballistic missile, modeled on a type of Iranian missile, which is believed to be able to reach more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) to strike near Eilat.
It was unclear whether U.S. naval forces in the region saw the incoming fire, as the USS Bataan, which carries troops and aircraft, and other elements of its strike group are likely now in the Red Sea, along with other U.S. ships. . The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Middle East, referred questions about Tuesday’s attack to the Pentagon. Officials there did not respond to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia also did not respond to questions. The kingdom saw four of its soldiers die in the southern province of Jazan in recent days in fighting with the Houthis, according to a report Tuesday by Bloomberg citing anonymous sources. This comes even as Saudi Arabia has been trying for months to reach a peace deal with the Houthis after a years-long stalemate war against them.
The Houthi statement further drew Iran into the conflict. Tehran has long sponsored both the Houthis and Hamas, as well as the Lebanese Shiite militia group Hezbollah, which continues to exchange deadly cross-border fire with the Israelis. U.S. troops have also been injured in drone attacks on bases in Iraq claimed by militia groups allied with Iran since the war began.
The Houthis follow the Zaydi Shiite faith, a branch of Shiite Islam found almost exclusively in Yemen. The rebels’ motto has long been: “God is greatest; Death to America; Death to Israel; curse the Jews; victory for Islam.”
But “now they have the hard power to back it up,” said Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied Yemen for years.
“It was just a matter of time before they could do this,” Juneau said, noting the steady advance of the rebels’ missile program that came with Iranian help. “The fact that there is another front directly to the south increases the risk that Israel (air defenses) could be overwhelmed and then it may be much more worrying” if Hezbollah, Hamas and others launch massive missile bombardments.
Iran has long denied arming the Houthis, even as it has been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Yemeni militia using sea routes. Independent experts, Western nations and United Nations experts have traced components seized aboard other detained ships to Iran.
The reason for this is likely a UN arms embargo that has banned arms transfers to the Houthis since 2014.
There has also been at least one attack claimed by the Houthis and for which suspicion later fell entirely on Iran. In 2019, cruise missiles and drones successfully penetrated Saudi Arabia and hit the heart of its oil industry in Abqaiq. That attack temporarily halved the kingdom’s output and sent global energy prices soaring by the most since the 1991 Gulf War.
While the Houthis claimed responsibility for the Abqaiq attack, the United States, Saudi Arabia and analysts blamed Iran. UN experts also said it was “unlikely” that the Houthis carried out the attack, although Tehran denied involvement.
Iran’s mission to the UN did not respond to a request for comment on the Houthi attacks.
Associated Press writers Jack Jeffrey and Sam Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.