Iran Deploys Naval Fleet Off Yemen Coast as Fighting Escalates

AFP Photo
AFP Photo

Iran deployed its 34th naval fleet over to the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday, which means that its ships may infringe upon a Sunni coalition-led naval blockade over Yemen, Iranian state media reports.

Iran’s Press TV reports that an Alborz destroyer and a Bushehr ship left the Bandar Abbas port on Wednesday. Its stated mission is to supposedly protect Iranian assets from piracy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told the state-run network. Sayyari said that the Iranian vessels will monitor the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, which is a strategic choke point and major shipping route.

The 34th fleet’s mission is “to provide [safety for] Iran’s shipping lines and protect the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests in the high seas,” the Iranian commander added.

The Iranian frigate is armed with anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and machine guns.

The new development may force the Iranian military vessels into a collision course with Sunni naval apparatuses in the region. Saudi Arabia and its allies have imposed a no-fly zone over Yemen, and have also blockaded its sea lanes and ports.

The Islamic Republic has long been accused of aiding the Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen. In March, reports stated that an Iranian ship unloaded over 185 tons of weaponry into the hands of the Houthi fighters.

Meanwhile, a new round of sectarian clashes have started between the Houthis and Sunni fighters who remain loyal to Yemen’s internationally-recognized president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. A Saudi-led air campaign has continued to bomb Houthi strongholds in the country’s north.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that over 560 people, including over 75 children, have been killed in Yemen since March 19. Another 100,000 have been displaced as a result of the burgeoning civil war, according to WHO.

The United States remains firmly committed to supporting the Saudi-led effort to reinstall Sunni leadership in the country, which is split 60-40 Sunnis to Shiites.

“We have expedited weapons deliveries, we have increased our intelligence sharing, and we have established a joint coordination and planning cell in the Saudi operations centre,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Tuesday.