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DOD says US Navy, Israeli-owned ship not intended target of Houthi missiles

The Pentagon said Tuesday that the USS Mason and Central Park, an Israeli-owned tanker, were not the intended target of Houthi missiles that fired from Yemen over the weekend. 

The missiles came after five armed assailants attempted to seize the MV Central Park, an Israeli-owned tanker operated by Zodiac Maritime, in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday. 

The vessel sent out a distress call and forces from the USS Mason, an American destroyer, responded. The five assailants attempted to flee in their small boats, but the U.S. forces pursued them and fired warning shots, resulting in their eventual surrender, according to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. 

Around 90 minutes later, at least one – possibly two – ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen and landed around 10 nautical miles from the Mason as it was assisting the vessel. 

Yemen’s internationally recognized government blamed the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for the attack, though the rebels in control of the capital, Sanaa, did not acknowledge either the seizure or the missile attack.  

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The Pentagon said that the five armed assailants who attempted to seize the Israeli-linked vessel were likely Somali pirates and not Houthi rebels. 

On Tuesday, Ryder told Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin it was the Pentagon’s assessment that the Mason and Central Park were not the intended target of the missile. 

Ryder could not speak to the intended target and referred further questions on the matter to the Houthis. He could not confirm any potential U.S. military action against the Houthis. 

Gen Ryder

“I’m not going to telegraph or forecast or speculate on any potential airstrikes that we might take in the region other than to say we will do what’s necessary to protect our forces,” Ryder said. 

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Recent attacks on commercial vessels have been conducted by Houthis, seen as part of a rise in violence in the region due to the Israel-Hamas war. Global shipping had increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

People with guns on the ship

Zodiac Maritime has been targeted previously amid a wider yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel. In 2021, a drone attack assessed by the U.S. and other Western nations to have been carried out by Iran killed two crew members aboard Zodiac’s oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman.

The Central Park seizure comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by another Israeli billionaire, came under attack Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean. Iran has not acknowledged carrying out the attack.

Earlier in November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship also linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel off the port city of Hodeida.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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