Amidst escalating tensions in the Middle East, Iran issued a stern warning to the United States on Sunday over potential action against two cargo ships suspected of serving as Iranian military outposts. This follows recent airstrikes launched by the US and UK against Houthi rebels in Yemen, further fueling regional anxieties about a wider conflict.
The Iranian statement addressed the fate of the “Behshad” and “Saviz” vessels, both registered as commercial cargo ships but linked to an Iran-based company sanctioned by the US Treasury. These ships have been lingering in the Red Sea near Yemen for years, raising concerns about their potential role in Iranian military activities.
Iran’s Growing Unease:
The statement appears to reflect Iran’s mounting discomfort with recent US strikes targeting militias backed by the Islamic Republic in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. These attacks, retaliatory for the killing of American soldiers in Jordan, stemmed from the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza, further heightening regional tensions.
Yemen Strikes and Houthi Response:
Overnight Sunday, US and UK forces launched airstrikes across six Yemeni provinces controlled by Houthi rebels, including the capital Sanaa. The Houthis claim no significant damage, while the US asserts targeting underground missile arsenals, launch sites, and rebel helicopters.
Houthi military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree vowed retaliation, stating, “These attacks will not discourage Yemeni forces from supporting Palestinians against the Zionist occupation.” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron echoed warnings for the Houthis to cease attacks on international shipping.
The Behshad and Saviz:
The Behshad and Saviz, while registered as commercial vessels, are linked to a sanctioned Iranian company and suspected of serving as forward operating bases for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Saudi Arabia previously accused the Saviz of acting as a maritime base and weapons transhipment point. The Iranian statement now describes these vessels as “floating armouries,” yet offers no explanation for their extended presence near Yemen.
Iran’s Warning and US Response:
The Iranian video statement concludes with a stark warning, overlaying footage of US warships with the message: “Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes and security, assuming global responsibility for potential future international risks.” The US Navy’s 5th Fleet has not yet responded to this threat.
Wider Shadow War:
The Saviz, previously damaged by a suspected Israeli attack in 2021, highlights the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Israel, further complicated by the recent US and UK actions in Yemen.
With tensions simmering and both sides issuing warnings, the fate of the cargo ships and the broader regional situation remain uncertain. This incident underscores the complex and volatile dynamics at play in the Middle East, raising concerns about the potential for further escalation.