In another ominous sign of deteriorating conditions in the Middle East, Iran moved two of its warships into Bab-el-Mandeb, a narrow strait that is a strategic position between Yemen and Djibouti.
The Bab-el-Mandeb is the point of entry to the Red Sea from the south. Roughly four million barrels of oil pass through the strait on a daily basis, heading either to or from the Suez Canal to the north, according to Yahoo News.
The movement of warships into the strait comes after a tumultuous month in the region. Just last week, U.S. warships left the waters off of Yemen after several Iranian ships suspected of carrying weapons to the Shiite rebels in Yemen turned back as well.
On Tuesday, the Iranian navy also seized a U.S. container ship, although the Iranian government said it was over debts.
“The information that the Iranian ships received warnings and left the area (off Yemen) is not correct,” said Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari, the head of the Iranian navy.
He also denied that the ships were delivering weapons to the Huthi rebels in Yemen, saying Iran had no intention of entering “the territorial waters of other countries.”
Sayari said the two Iranian destroyers stationed in the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Alborz, and Bushehr would be there until late June.
“We are present in the Gulf of Aden in accordance with international regulations to ensure the safety of commercial ships of our country against the threat of pirates,” Sayari said.
However, many observers believe the move was likely related to tensions between Iran, which backs the Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, which backs the Sunni-led establishment.
In addition to the deployment of the destroyers in the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Saudi chargé d’affaires was summoned to Iran’s foreign ministry to receive a “strong protest” over Saudi forces preventing an Iranian plane from landing in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, by bombing the runway it was to land on.
“(E)ndangering the lives of the crew and members of the Iranian Red Crescent, who brought medical aid to Yemenis and wanted to transfer the wounded, is unacceptable,” a top Iranian diplomat is quoted as saying.