The Houthi rebels in Yemen, acting as Iran's proxy, have increased threats to international shipping in the Red Sea, purportedly to back Hamas in the Gaza conflict. Since the so called "Arab Spring," Yemen has evolved into a testing site for an array of Iranian-provided missiles, rockets, and drones. These weapons have been predominantly used in the conflict against Saudi Arabia, targeting civilian and energy infrastructures both in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Now, they are targeted at Israel and US Navy operations in the Red Sea.
The USS Mason (DDG-87), an Arleigh Burke-class Guided-Missile Destroyer of the U.S. Navy, collaborated with a Japanese Navy destroyer and helicopter gunships to capture several Houthi attempted to hijack the Israeli-linked oil tanker “Central Park” off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. During the hijacking, the tanker's crew securely locked themselves in a safe room and sent out a distress signal, which was received by nearby U.S. and Japanese naval ships.
The Houthis abandoned the tanker and attempted to flee back towards Yemen, where they were intercepted and arrested by naval personnel. Later on, The Pentagon reported after the incident that the attempt to kidnap the ship seemed to have been the work of armed Somali pirates rather than Yemeni Houthis, despite subsequent missile launches from Houthi-held areas in Yemen.
The USS Mason is part of the Dwight D Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group but was detached for this incident. CENTCOM reported on 26 November that the aircraft carrier had transited the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf.
In what seems like a retaliatory move, CENTCOM disclosed the possibility of the Houthis conducting a ballistic anti-ship missile attack. On 27 November at approximately 0441 GMT, two ballistic missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory towards the Mason and "Central Park" in the Gulf of Aden, landing about ten nautical miles away. CENTCOM did not specify if the missiles were intended for ship targets. The Ansar Allah group has showcased various anti-ship ballistic missiles in military parades since September 2022.
The Houthis had previously warned that they would target ships associated with Israel as part of the Iran-led "Axis of Resistance" supporting the war in Gaza. Houthi spokesman released a video showing the hijacking of the vehicle carrier Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea on 19 November but has not yet responded to CENTCOM’s statement on the Central Park attack or claimed direct responsibility for the drone attack on the container ship CMA CGM Symi on 24 November.
A US defense official informed the Associated Press that the container ship was damaged by an Iranian-made Shahed-136 long-range one-way attack UAV in the Indian Ocean. The Yemeni group has displayed Shahed-136s as Waed. On November 14, the USS Thomas Hudner, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the Red Sea, downed several Houthi Waeed - Iranian Shahed-136 – drones launched at Israel.
During a naval parade in Al-Hudaydah on 1 September 2022, and later in Sanaa, the Houthis unveiled the Asef (عاصف), an anti-ship missile echoing Iran's Khalij Fars version of the Fateh-110 ballistic missile. Ansar Allah claims the Asef has a 400 km range with a 550 kg warhead. Additional anti-ship ballistic missiles were showcased in Sanaa's parade on 21 September 2023.
This incident echoes the October 2016 events when the US military reported three anti-ship missile attacks in the Red Sea involving Mason, with the destroyer deploying countermeasures in the first two attacks on 9 and 12 October.
Iran, at the helm of the so-called "Axis of Resistance," actively encourages its proxy forces to focus on Israeli and American interests in Iraq and Syria amid the Gaza conflict. The mouthpiece of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wrote in this regard: "Yemeni forces, parallel to Hezbollah, have been actively and significantly involved in the Gaza war. It is widely believed that one of the key factors influencing Israel's decision to agree to a four-day ceasefire was the involvement of the Houthis in the war. Their role has been substantial enough to compromise the security of Israel's typically safe port city, Eilat, distant from Gaza and Lebanon. They also targeted commercial vessels associated with Israel".
Nonetheless, Iran does not engage directly in the Gaza war. While it plays a pivotal role in instigating various conflicts in the Middle East, Iran has evaded direct consequences for its subversion and terrorist activity in the region.
On the contrary - The United States, keen on resolving the nuclear issue, has handed over $15 billion in recent months to Tehran.
A lot of money to finance its "Axis of Resistance" proxies.