Israel ready to act against Houthi rebels if international community fails to, official says

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CNN
 — 

Israel is prepared to act against efforts by Houthi rebels in Yemen to disrupt shipping in the Red Sea if the international community fails to do so, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had spoken with US President Joe Biden as well as European leaders about Houthis targeting merchant ships with alleged Israeli links, Hanegbi told Israel’s Channel 12.

“Israel is giving the world some time to organize in order to prevent this but if there isn’t to be a global arrangement, because it is a global issue, we will act in order to remove this naval siege,” Hanegbi said.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen are a Shia political and military organization that have been fighting a civil war against a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition since 2014.

There has been an uptick in their maritime activities since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7.

US warships have already been protecting shipping in the region. Last week a US warship shot down multiple unmanned aerial vehicles that came from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen in the southern Red Sea, according to US military officials. One of the incidents came during a series of attacks on three commercial vessels.

US military officials have said they are considering beefing up protections for commercial ships around a vital Red Sea shipping route amid a series of recent missile attacks by Houthi militants operating out of Yemen.

The US has discussed ways to increase security in the area with members of the Combined Maritime Forces, a multi-national naval task force charged with protecting commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

US officials have said publicly that discussions have centered on the possibility of escorting ships operating in the Red Sea and through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait into the Gulf of Aden — the narrow channel that separates Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

Newly recruited fighters who joined a Houthi military force intended to be sent to fight in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, march during a parade in Sanaa, Yemen December 2, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Hanegbi also discussed developments on the ground in Gaza, saying that the US had not given Israel any deadline to complete military operations in the enclave.

“They understand that they are not in a position to tell the IDF how long it needs in order to achieve the goals,” he said.

“The good thing is that they share the same goals… It is correct to assume that we cannot measure this in weeks and I’m not certain that it could be measured in months.”

CNN has previously reported that US officials expect Israel’s operation targeting the southern end of the strip to last several weeks before it transitions, possibly by January, to a lower-intensity, hyper-localized strategy that narrowly targets specific Hamas militants and leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials.

The White House is deeply concerned about how Israel’s operations will unfold over the next several weeks, a senior US administration official said.

The US has warned Israel firmly in “hard” and “direct” conversations, the official said, that the Israel Defense Forces cannot replicate the kind of devastating tactics it used in the north and must do more to limit civilian casualties.

Hanegbi said he did not think the Hamas leadership had expected the scope of Israel’s response to the assault against southern Israel on October 7, in which some 1,200 people were killed.

“I do not think that Yahya Sinwar (Hamas’ leader in Gaza) realized that the IDF will actually reach any point they want inside Gaza and kill over 7,000 terrorists,” Hanegbi said.

“This is the minimal estimate, it could be higher since we don’t know everything,” he added.

“We are getting very close to the control and command centers of Hamas in Jabalia and Shejaiya, the strongholds of persistent resistance in the northern Gaza Strip. And in the south we’re operating fiercely.”

When asked about the possibility of Israel having to choose between killing Sinwar and saving the hostages if they were in the same place, Hanegbi said: “We could be facing such a situation, it is a heart-breaking dilemma for any decision maker, but that would mean that (we) have reached him.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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