by Rick Moran
Ideally, the carrier and other US ships would stand by while the Saudis do the actual boarding and inspection of the Iranian ships. But what if Iran refuses to allow inspections?
In what could be a major escalation in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is moving into position to intercept a flotilla of at least 8 Iranian vessels thought to be carrying arms to resupply Houthi rebels.
The US already has several ships deployed in the area and the Gulf States have their own vessels patrolling the coast trying to enforce an arms embargo authorized by the UN Security Council.
This tense situation is made worse by uncertainty of Iran's intentions if their ships are told to stop for inspection.
Navy officials said Monday that the Roosevelt was moving through the Arabian Sea. A massive ship that carries F/A-18 fighter jets, the Roosevelt is seen more of a deterrent and show of force in the region.Ideally, the carrier and other US ships would stand by while the Saudis do the actual boarding and inspection of the Iranian ships. But what if Iran refuses to allow inspections? In that case, it's nice to have an aircraft carrier backing you up if you're the Saudis.
The U.S. Navy has been beefing up its presence in the Gulf of Aden and the southern Arabian Sea in response to reports that a convoy of about eight Iranian ships is heading toward Yemen and possibly carrying arms for the Houthis. Navy officials said there are about nine U.S. warships in the region, including cruisers and destroyers carrying teams that can board and search other vessels.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ship movement on the record.
Saudi Arabia and several of its allies, mainly Gulf Arab countries, have been trying to drive back the rebels, who seized the capital of Sanaa in September and have overrun many other northern provinces with the help of security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The U.S. supports the Saudi campaign.
Western governments and Sunni Arab countries say the Houthis get their arms from Iran. Tehran and the rebels deny that, although the Islamic Republic has provided political and humanitarian support to the Shiite group.
The U.S. has been providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi coalition launching airstrikes against the Houthis. That air campaign is now in its fourth week, and the U.S. has also begun refueling coalition aircraft involved in the conflict.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not comment specifically on any Navy movements in Yemeni waters, but said the U.S. has concerns about Iran's "continued support for the Houthis.
"We have seen evidence that the Iranians are supplying weapons and other armed support to the Houthis in Yemen. That support will only contribute to greater violence in that country. These are exactly the kind of destabilizing activities that we have in mind when we raise concerns about Iran's destabilizing activities in the Middle East."
We are closer to a shooting war breaking out now between Saudi Arabia and Iran than we've been in previous weeks. Let's hope that cooler heads prevail in Tehran and a stare down on the high seas can be avoided.
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