Iran said its navy will escort a ship carrying aid to Yemen, where rebels with ties to the Islamic Republic are fighting allies of Saudi Arabia.
An Iranian fleet currently in the Bab al-Mandab strait off Yemen will be “responsible for providing special support to humanitarian aid from Iran,” said Admiral Hossein Azad, first commander of the navy, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. It will protect a ship that’s carrying food, water, medicine and tents to Yemen, IRNA said.
The Iranian move has the potential to add to tensions in a region that abuts some of the world’s biggest oilfields and key shipping routes.
Saudi Arabia is leading a campaign of airstrikes in Yemen against Shiite rebels it accuses of being tools of regional rival Iran. The kingdom has promised a cease-fire starting at 11 p.m. on Tuesday, after U.S. pressure to scale back the conflict. Bombing has intensified in the days running up to the proposed halt, which the Saudis say they’ll only implement for as long as the rebels hold to it.
Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said that no Iranian warship has yet joined the vessel and it’s “not necessary” for Iran to send any. He said any effort by Iran to provoke tensions “would be unhelpful and it in fact could potentially threaten” the planned cease-fire in Yemen.
The U.S. would encourage Iran to send aid via a United Nations distribution hub in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, Warren told reporters on Tuesday. He declined to say what the U.S. would do if the vessel said to be carrying aid docked in Yemen.
Azad said the fleet will “demonstrate Iran’s maritime authority” and its mission is to “ensure the boundaries of international shipping and to defend the interests of the Islamic Republic and the depth of its diplomatic apparatus.”
For more, read this QuickTake: Yemen's Fault Lines