Iran has deployed a fleet of warships to the Gulf of Aden, the republic’s naval commander has confirmed. The deployment follows US cruise missile strikes on Yemeni positions thought to be under Houthi rebel control.
The Iranian Navy has sent the warships to international waters for a mission that includes entering the area off the southern coast of Yemen, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari confirmed on Wednesday. The area is among the world’s busiest maritime trade routes.
The fleet will provide security to sea ways for Iranian vessels and protect Iran’s interests on the high seas,” Sayyari told Press TV.
“The 34th Fleet is comprised of the Bushehr logistic vessel and Alborz destroyer, and will conduct a three-month mission.”
The commander said the fleet had departed from the southern port city of Bandar Abbas in Iran. He dismissed claims the fleet has been deployed to intervene in the conflict in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, which has fought a long war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, accuses Iran of supporting the group – a charge denied by Tehran.
The US military carried out “limited self-defense strikes” in Yemen on Thursday, in retaliation for recent attacks on an American naval destroyer, USS Mason, which has been operating north of the Bab Al-Mandab Strait.
According to the Pentagon’s initial assessments, three “radar sites” in the Houthi rebel-controlled area of Yemen were destroyed in the attack.
The attack on coastal targets was carried out by Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the destroyer USS Nitze, NPR reported.
The Houthis have denied carrying out the attack, however. A military source reportedly told Saba news agency – a media outlet run by the group – that the assault did not come from areas under its control.
“These allegations are unfounded and the army as well popular forces have nothing to do with this action,” the source said.
“The US allegations just came in the context of creating false justifications to pave the way for Saudi-led coalition to escalate their… attacks against Yemen and to cover for crimes continually committed by the aggression coalition against the Yemeni people and to continue an all-out blockade,” the spokesman added.
He said the army is ready to confront any future aggression against the country, whatever the justification.
US Launches Strikes Against Houthi Radar Sites in Yemen
By Al Jazeera,
The US military has launched cruise missile strikes to knock out three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebel forces, in retaliation for missile attacks at its Navy ship.
Thursday’s strikes, authorised by President Barack Obama, represent Washington’s first direct military action against Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen’s conflict.
The Pentagon said the strikes were aimed at radars that enabled the launch of at least three missiles against the US Navy destroyer USS Mason since Sunday.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said US Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched the Tomahawk cruise missiles around 4am local time (01:00 GMT), according to Reuters news agency.
“These radars were active during previous attacks and attempted attacks on ships in the Red Sea,” including the USS Mason, one of the officials said, adding the sites were in remote areas where the risk of civilian casualties was low.
The US official identified the areas in Yemen where the radars were targeted as near Ras Isa, north of Mukha and near Khoka.
Just hours after news broke of the strikes, Iran announced that it had deployed two warships to the Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said on Thursday that the destroyers had been dispatched on October 5 and were part of a regular anti-piracy patrol off Yemen and East Africa.
The missile attacks on the USS Mason – the latest of which took place earlier on Wednesday – appeared to be the Houthis’ response to a suspected Arab coalition strike on mourners gathered in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
But Houthi rebel fighters and allies on Thursday denied the accusations that they had targeted the USS Mason, according to AFP news agency.
“Those claims are baseless,” the Saba news agency quoted a military official allied with the rebels as saying. “The [rebel-allied] army and the Popular Committees [armed group] have nothing to do with this action.”
The missile incidents, along with an October 1 strike on a vessel from the United Arab Emirates, add to questions about the safety of passage for military ships around the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
The Pentagon warned against any future attacks.
“The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate,” Cook said.
The conflict between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels escalated last year with the intervention of an Arab coalition in support of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The UN says more than 6,700 people have been killed and more than three million displaced by fighting in Yemen since March 2015, when the coalition launched its campaign.