The government of Saudi Arabia confirmed on Monday that Iran-backed Houthis had attacked one of its frigates patrolling the Red Sea near Yemen, killing two crew members and wounding three others.
The nature of the attack is disputed, however. Houthi and Iranian state media claim it was a missile attack, while the Saudis say the Houthis used “suicide boats.”
Ynet News notes the Houthis posted a video of the attack, which appears to show an anti-ship missile hitting a ship, while rebels shout, “Death to America! Death to Israel!” in the background. Many in the Yemeni insurgency hold the United States to be a silent partner to the Saudi-led coalition because the U.S. supplies Saudi Arabia with arms.
At one point, the Houthis claimed they sank the frigate, with all hands aboard.
On the other hand, the Saudis released a statement that said their ship “acted in response” to suicide boats, but “one of them crashed into the back of the ship causing an explosion and a fire, which was later extinguished.”
Reuters quotes the Saudi coalition warning the attack would “impact international navigation and the flow of humanitarian assistance to the port for Yemeni citizens.”
The Wall Street Journal observes that suicide attacks are rarely employed by the Houthis but otherwise accepts the Saudi coalition’s account of the incident.
On Tuesday afternoon, Fox News reported that the Pentagon believes the attack was indeed carried out by suicide boat, and the intended target was actually an American warship. The Houthis launched missiles at U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea in October, in the same general area as this new attack.
“U.S. defense analysts believe those behind the attack either thought the bomber was striking an American warship or that this was a ‘dress rehearsal’ similar to the attack on the USS Cole,” said one Pentagon official, per Fox News.
The Fox report notes that President Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman about setting up safe zones for refugees in Yemen and Syria just a day before the attack.