The Iran-backed Houthi insurgency in Yemen has increased its activity in the Red Sea following the start of the 2023 Israel-Hamas War. Formerly designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the movement's official slogan is, "God is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam." Supporting Iran-backed Hamas, Houthis have deployed missiles and UAVs across the Red Sea towards Israel since the October 7, 2023, Hamas terror attacks on Israel.
Houthi weapons have been intercepted by the Israel Defense Force, primarily with the Arrow missile defense system. However, U.S. Navy assets in the Red Sea have also engaged these weapons. On October 19, 2023, the destroyer USS Carney (DDG-64) shot down four Houthi cruise missiles and 15 drones headed toward Israel. This marked the first U.S. military action in Israel's defense since the beginning of the war.
November 9, 2023, saw a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper UAV shot down by Houthi air defense systems off the coast of Yemen. Six days later, the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) shot down a Houthi drone launched from Yemen. Thomas Hudner shot down several more drones on November 23, 2023. On November 29, 2023, Carney shot down another Houthi drone near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. December 26, 2023, saw an escalation in U.S.-Houthi engagements when the destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58) and F/A-18 Hornets fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) carrier strike group, and an Israeli jet shot down 12 drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and two land attack cruise missiles fired from Yemen.
Engagements between the U.S. Navy and the Houthis escalated further on December 31, 2023, when Houthi small boats fired on Navy helicopters. At 0630 local time, the container ship Maersk Hangzhou issued a second distress call in less than 24 hours. The ship was under attack by four Houthi small boats whose crews were firing small arms and crew-served weapons. U.S. Central Command reports that attempts were made by the Houthis to board the merchant ship, with the small boats coming within 20 meters, and a contract embarked security team returned fire.
Responding to the distress call, the Navy deployed helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and destroyer USS Gravely (DDG-107). Upon arriving at the scene, the helicopters issued verbal calls to the Houthi small boats which opened fire on them. "The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews," CENTCOM tweeted. "The fourth boat fled the area. There was no damage to U.S. personnel or equipment."
On November 19, 2023, a Houthi raid hijacked the cargo ship Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea. At least ten armed Houthis landed on the ship via an armed Mi-171Sh helicopter and took the crew of 25 hostage. Brought back to Yemen, Galaxy Leader is used by the Houthis as a tourist attraction and her crew remain hostages of the insurgents.