The United States said on Tuesday it was considering designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organization after their seizure of an Israel-linked cargo vessel in the Red Sea.
The capture on Sunday of the Galaxy Leader and its 25 international crew came days after the Iran-backed Houthis threatened to target Israeli shipping over the Israel-Hamas war.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “in light of… the piracy of a ship in international waters, we have begun a review of potential terrorist designations and we’ll be considering other options together with our allies and partners as well.”
The Bahamas-flagged, British-owned Galaxy Leader is operated by a Japanese firm but has links to Israeli businessman Abraham “Rami” Ungar.
Mr. Kirby called on the rebels to “release that ship immediately – as well as the crew – and unconditionally.”
The Houthis said the capture was in retaliation for Israel’s war against Hamas, sparked by the October 7 attack by the Palestinian militants who killed around 1,200 people and took around 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.
More than 14,000 people have since been killed in Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground operations in the Gaza Strip, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.
The Houthis have declared themselves part of the “axis of resistance” of Iran’s allies and proxies and have also launched a series of drones and missiles towards Israel.
Washington removed them from its list of “terrorist organizations” in February 2021.
Officials felt that the designation was complicating the response to the humanitarian crisis in war torn Yemen, which is partly controlled by the rebel group.