Iran deployed two warships -- a navy destroyer and another vessel – near Yemen on Wednesday, raising concerns amid fierce confrontation between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting Yemen’s beleaguered President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The deployment of the warships, reported by Iran's English-language state broadcaster Press TV, marks Iran’s first obvious military involvement in the Yemen crisis since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against Shiite Houthi militants about two weeks ago. There have been many reports that said the rebels have received aid from Iran, but the Iranian government has denied such claims.
Tehran has sent the two warships to the Gulf of Aden and the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait as part of “the country’s policy of safeguarding naval routes for vessels in the region,” Press TV reported, citing Iranian navy commander Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari.
The move by the Iranian government came as the U.S. extended its support for the Saudi-led coalition, accelerating arms shipments, strengthening intelligence sharing with Riyadh and setting up a coordination center in the oil-rich country.
Meanwhile in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday that the U.S. had conducted the aerial refueling of Emirati F-16s and Saudi F-15s as the country’s first military intervention in support of the Arab air campaign in Yemen, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Analysts said Iran intends to show its power by sending the warships to waters off Yemen.
“The Iranian navy has regularly sent warships to the Gulf of Aden to protect its ships from pirates,” Davoud Hermidas Bavand, an Iranian political analyst, told the AP. “But given the timing, the dispatch of a destroyer is seen as ... muscle-flexing by Iran.”
According to a report from the World Health Organization, more than 1,700 -- many of them civilians -- have been wounded since the Houthis and their allies launched an intensified land grab on March 19. Unicef also said in a recent report that that more than 100,000 people had to leave their homes in search of safer places.