Amid Yemen Fray, Tehran Warns Saudi Arabia to Keep Military Exercises Far from Iran

Members of Royal Saudi Navy takes part in ÒGulf Shield 1Ó exercise, east of Saudi Arabia, in this handout photo received October 4, 2016. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

Saudi Arabia began live-fire military exercises in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz this week, triggering a stern warning from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to stay far away from Iranian waters.

“The Revolutionary Guards naval forces believe this war game is mainly to create tension and destabilize the Persian Gulf,” Reuters quotes Iran’s Tasnim news agency as reporting. PressTV, a state-run Iranian news agency, added that the Iranian military referred to the Saudi exercises as “an evident attempt to foment tensions and compromise sustainable security in the Persian Gulf.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Navy and the IRGC’s Naval Force are in full combat readiness to safeguard sustainable security in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman,” PressTV asserted.

Al Arabiya, a Saudi news outlet, described the military exercises as involving largely maritime assets. A Saudi military commander said the exercises were “in preparation for the protection of the marine interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any possible aggression.” The timing of the exercises highlights growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as it follows an attack by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen on a United Arab Emirates (UAE) ship earlier this week. The UAE is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and close ally of Saudi Arabia.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been involved extensively in the Yemeni civil war, fighting each other by proxy. Iran has supported the aforementioned Shiite Houthis, while Saudi Arabia has lent its support to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the officially recognized Sunni government. Saudi media has accused Iran not only of ideologically supporting the Houthis but of providing weapons and other aid directly, using a mediator group to hide the weapons in question.

The UAE ship the Houthis attacked was carrying much-needed humanitarian aid to the country, whose civilian population has been devastated, forced to be dependent on such aid to survive. The UAE referred to the attack as a “terrorist act.”

“This is a terrorist attack that violates the international laws. It is also a clear violation of humanity and a flagrant aggression against life,” Hadi’s government said in an official statement, echoing the UAE.

A spokesman for the Houthi rebels clarified that, when they attacked the ship, they did not believe it to be carrying humanitarian aid. The UAE was once part of a greater coalition fighting in Yemen, however, led by Saudi Arabia. While Saudi troops are still fighting there, the UAE withdrew in June, with officials claiming the war there was “practically over,” anyway.