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Yemen's Houthi Rebels Claim Strike on Port of Haifa

Missiles on parade in Saana
File image courtesy Houthi Military Media

Published Jun 23, 2024 5:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

Yemen's Houthi rebels claim to have launched what may be their most ambitious attack on shipping to date: a long-range strike on the port of Haifa, hundreds of miles from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. 

On Sunday, spokesman Yahya Saree claimed in a televised address that the group attacked four merchant vessels at the Port of Haifa for violating "the ban on entering the ports of occupied Palestine." The group opposed Israel's ongoing operation in Gaza, and it has vowed to attack any vessels that call in Israeli seaports or have a connection to Israeli ownership.

Saree also claimed that the group attacked the cattle carrier Shorthorn Express in the Mediterranean, as it approached Haifa.

The Eastern Mediterranean is far away from the Houthis' area of focus to date. The group has concentrated its efforts in the Red Sea, near Houthi-occupied coastline, and in the Gulf of Aden. Its operations are widely believed to be supported by Iranian intelligence vessels operating in these areas, which provide the surveillance and precision targeting information needed to carry out long-range maritime strikes. 

The Israeli military has not commented on the claims of a strike on Haifa, but a local TV channel in the port city reported on a single air defense missile launch on Sunday morning. 

Over the weekend, U.S. Central Command condemned the Houthi movement's continued acts of aggression in the region, though it did not confirm any of the group's claims. "This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden," CENTCOM said in a statement.

The Houthi movement's escalating attacks on shipping suggest serious challenges ahead for Western efforts to bring the group under control. U.S. forces have been attempting to degrade the group's capabilities for months, both by intercepting Houthi attacks and by striking their Iranian-supplied weapons systems on the ground, before launch. The counterstrikes do not appear to have deterred Houthi fighters from their mission; if anything, some Middle East analysts say that the direct military confrontation with the United States has raised the group's popularity and standing in the region. 

"Their ability to replace whatever we destroy is unimpeded and our ability to interdict materiel coming into the country negligible," Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, told the Washington Post last week. "So as long as they have the incentive to continue these attacks, they’ve demonstrated they have the ability to do it."