The US military is trying to prevent Iran from arming the Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The American military is stepping up efforts to thwart Iranian attempts to arm the Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen, focusing on “game-changing” weapons and anti-aircraft missiles that could hinder the Sunni campaign to push back the Shi’ite rebels.
US naval forces in the Red Sea boarded a freighter suspected of delivering Iranian weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen earlier in April, the Wall Street Journal reports. The USS Sterett, a destroyer, searched a Panamanian-flagged ship but found no weapons on board.
Officials told the WSJ that this incident marked the US Navy’s first boarding operation in an expanding campaign to ensure Iran does not supply advanced weapons, such as surface-to-air missiles that would threaten Saudi-led airstrikes on the Houthis. The US military has stepped up its surveillance in the region in order to keep track of Iran and the Houthis.
US and Saudi officials charged that Tehran has been providing weapons, training and funding for the Shi’ite Houthis for years. Iran denies these allegations.
More than a dozen nations have warships in the region, with Saudi and Egyptian sailors taking the lead in enforcing a naval blockade that has limited the Houthi fighters’ ability to rearm themselves, US military officials told the WSJ. Weeks of airstrikes by the Arab Sunni coalition have damaged many runways in Yemen, making it difficult for Iran to fly weapons into the country.
The Iranians “don’t have an easy route in from the air. They don’t have an easy route in from the sea,” one senior US military official told the WSJ. “There’s lots of intelligence focused on what they’re doing—from loading [of weapons in Iran] to potential delivery [in Yemen].”
So far, military officials say, the coordinated military operations appear to have deterred Iran from taking major risks to aid the Houthis.
“I don’t get the sense that the Iranian level of commitment at this point is of such a magnitude that they are going to take a big risk of being exposed any more than they already are,” one military official said, according to the WSJ. “If they can do it, and it’s not going to cost them a whole lot, I think they’ll do it. But the Houthis are not some ally that they are going to go to the mat for.”
Iran has long been suspected of aiding the Houthis militarily in its efforts to gain regional hegemony through destabilization and the arming of terror organizations. A report from Yemen indicates that two Iranian officers were captured during the fighting in the city of Aden on Friday. They are said to be from an elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), serving as advisors to the rebels.
Two years ago, Yemeni authorities seized a ship off the coast that was packed with weapons, including surface-to-air-missiles and Katyusha rockets, and they arrested crew members. Yemeni officials suspected the weapons were bound for Houthi militants as part of an effort by Tehran to back the fighters.
The airstrikes began two weeks ago as part of Operation Decisive Storm, launched by the airforces of the Sunni Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt after Shi’ite Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sana’a and overran much of the country, forcing American-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country.