Houthi military helicopter hovers over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship as Houthi fighters walk on the ship's deck in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023.

IRGC Spy Ship, Quds Force Man Involved In Seizure Of Cargo Vessel In Red Sea

Wednesday, 11/22/2023

A Revolutionary Guards ship has allegedly helped the Iran-backed Houthis hijack a cargo vessel in the Red Sea, an operation reportedly led by an IRGC Quds Force commander.

The Galaxy Leader car carrier, owned by Israeli billionaire Abraham "Rami" Ungar but operated by the Japanese company NYK Line, was seized by Houthi forces Monday. Japan is said to be in direct talks with the group the US is now considering redesignating. 

The hijacking, captured in footage released by the Houthis, depicted armed men storming the vessel from a helicopter.

Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023.

An Iranian spy ship, the Behshad, associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is believed to have played a role in disclosing the Galaxy Leader's location to the Houthis. The Galaxy Leader had turned off its AIS transponder, raising questions about how the vessel's location was made known to the rebels. The Behshad, converted from a cargo vessel, has been present in the Red Sea since 2021, further deepening its connection to the IRGC.

Ronen Solomon, an independent intelligence analyst for IntelliTimes, says evidence points to IRGC Quds Force commander Brig Gen Abdolreza Shahlaei as the potential orchestrator of the hijacking.

The US government's Rewards for Justice program has a bounty of up to $15 million on Shahlaei's head, citing his involvement in attacks against Americans and US allies.

There are 25 hostages of various nationalities on the vessel being held in Yemen. Iran has a history of ship attacks since 2018, coinciding with the US's "maximum pressure" sanctions campaign.

It is believed the Houthis thought the vessel was Israeli, hoping to capture Israeli hostages, amidst the Gaza war. Iran-backed Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, resulting in relentless attacks from Israel. Regime leaders have condemned the Israeli assault and have activated Iran's proxies in the region, including the Houthis, which had threatened to hijack Israeli vessels in the region. The Houthis have also sent missiles towards Israel, along with proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Houthi fighters open the door of the cockpit on the ship's deck in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023.

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