Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim 2 attacks in Gulf of Aden as Iran official renews nuclear bomb threats

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Thursday claimed responsibility for two missile attacks in the Gulf of Aden on two Panama-flagged container ships that caused no damage. Meanwhile, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader again threatened that Tehran could build a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue atomic armaments.

The comments by Yemeni military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree and former Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi come as the allies of Hamas continue to pressure Israel over its continuing war on the militant group in the Gaza Strip.

The Houthis insist their assaults on shipping through the crucial waterway leading to the Suez Canal and onward to the Mediterranean Sea will continue as long as the war goes on. Meanwhile, Iran already has launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid the war, bringing a yearslong shadow conflict between the two nations out into the light.

Saree in a prerecorded statement claimed attacks on the MSC Diego and MSC Gina. The Joint Maritime Information Center, a U.S.-led coalition of nations operating in the Mideast, said those two missile attacks happened early Tuesday.

“Neither were hit and all crew on board are safe,” the center said. “The vessels were last reported proceeding to next port of call.”

The center added that the vessels were “likely targeted due to perceived Israeli affiliation.”

Both vessels were operating for Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Co., which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saree did not say why it took the rebels two day to claim the attacks. He also claimed the Houthis targeted the MSC Vittoria, another container ship, in the Indian Ocean. An attack on that vessel, however, has not been reported or acknowledged by any authorities.

The Houthis say their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are aimed at pressuring Israel to end its war against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians there, according to local health officials. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration. Shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat.

Meanwhile Thursday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency carried the comments made by Kharrazi, a former foreign minister under reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Speaking to the Al Jazeera news network in an interview that appeared not to have been immediately aired, Kharrazi elaborated on an atomic bomb threat he made to the channel back in 2022 amid tensions with the West over Iran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“If Iran’s existence is threatened, we will have to change our nuclear doctrine,” Kharrazi said, according to IRNA. “Recently, the military officials also announced that if Israel wants to attack nuclear facilities, it is possible and imaginable to revise Iran’s nuclear doctrine and policies and divert from the previous declaration considerations.”

Tensions have grown between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal. Since then, Iran has abandoned all limits the deal put on its program and enriches uranium to up to 60% purity — near weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Meanwhile, tensions between Iran and Israel have hit a new high. Tehran launched a drone-and-missile attack on Israel last month after Israel’s apparent attack on an Iranian consular building in Syria killed two Iranian generals and others.

The Iranian city of Isfahan then apparently came under Israeli fire in recent weeks, despite being surrounded by sensitive nuclear sites.

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Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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