You may not have noticed the news, but there is a shooting war going on off the coast of Yemen between the US Navy and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels trying to overthrow the government in Yemen.
According to US military sources, the US Navy destroyer, USS Mason, was targeted in a failed missile attack as it operated north of the Bab al-Mandab Strait. It was the second attack in the last week against US warships.
The Mason fired defensive salvos in response, bringing down one of the missiles fired at it according to the Pentagon.
In response, the US Navy reportedly fired Tomahawk cruise missiles Thursday morning from the Red Sea at coastal radar sites in Yemen, destroying targets believed to have targeted the US warships.
The missiles were launched from the destroyer USS Nitze at three locations north of the Bab el-Mandeb strait, said Pentagon press spokesman Peter Cook.
“These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway,” Cook said. “The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world.”
Michael Knights, an expert on Yemen’s conflict at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the targeting of U.S. warship suggested the Houthis, fighters from a Shi’ite sect that ruled a 1,000-year kingdom in northern Yemen until 1962, could be becoming more militarily aligned with groups like Lebanon’s Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, according to Reuters.
“Targeting U.S. warships is a sign that the Houthis have decided to join the axis of resistance that currently includes Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran,” Knight said.
The Mason was also the target of a failed missile attack off Yemen on Sunday, and the Navy praised the resolve of sailors aboard the ship.
U.S. officials have told Reuters there are growing indications that Houthi rebels, despite those denials, were responsible for Sunday’s incident. The rebels appeared to use small skiffs as spotters to help direct the missile attack on the warship on Sunday.
The United States is also investigating the possibility that a radar station under Houthi control in Yemen might have also “painted” the USS Mason, something that would have helped the Houthi fighters pass along coordinates for a strike, the officials have said.
Reuters has learned that the coastal defense cruise missiles used against the USS Mason on Sunday had considerable range, adding to concerns about the kind of heavy weaponry that the Houthis appear willing to employ and some of which U.S. officials believe is supplied by Iran.
Another missile launched Oct. 1 caused near-catastrophic damage to the HSV-2 Swift, a catamaran-style high-speed vessel that was operated by the Emiratis and once was a part of the U.S. Navy. Video of the strike published online shows the ship engulfed in a fireball.
It’s no secret that the Iranian regime has been supplying the Houthis in their insurgency campaign and warships from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have intercepted ships coming from Iran to Yemen loaded with illegal weapons, including rockets, mortars and launchers.
Even the U.S. Navy intercepted an Iranian shipping vessel sending vast shipments of arms to the Houthis in April 2016.
Attacking American ships in Yemen is becoming a disturbingly all too common affair since this Wednesday also marked the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attack against the USS Cole in Aden harbor, which killed 17 American sailors.
The fact that Iranian regime supplies virtually all of the arms to the Houthis, especially sophisticated weapons such as the cruise missiles fired at the US Navy ships, many members of Congress suspect that some of the $1.7 billion cash ransom payment made to the Iranian regime in exchange for the release of American hostages may have paid for the Houthi weapons.
The weekend attack on the U.S. Navy by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has sparked another official inquiry surrounding the cash payment to Iran, with a group of 17 senators now seeking to obtain an official assessment by the Pentagon of how Iranian regime has allocated this cash to its military operations, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Lawmakers, led by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas), are petitioning the Pentagon to provide a full analysis of Iran’s military activity since last summer’s nuclear agreement went into effect.
Senior Pentagon leaders have said in recent weeks that the Obama administration kept them in the dark about the cash payment to Iran. The U.S. defense establishment widely believes this money will help Iran foster instability across the Middle East.
The 17 senators sent a letter late Tuesday to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford. The inquiry centers around evidence that Iran has significantly increased its military activity since the nuclear accord went into effect.
“The plain purpose of transferring the payment in cash to Tehran was to circumvent the effects of U.S. and international financial sanctions,” the lawmakers wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Beacon. “Iran is almost certainly using this windfall to skirt the arms embargo and illicitly purchase weapons for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and/or the murderous Assad regime in Syria.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board took a hard line at the possibility of Iran supplying and directing the use of these weapons against US forces, which “were attacked by two Chinese-built C-802 cruise missiles fired from territory controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi militia. Iran is a major operator of the C-802; its proxy Hezbollah used it in 2006 to punch a hole in an Israeli corvette off the coast of Lebanon.”
“More significantly, the attack on the Navy ships—with hundreds of American sailors aboard—is another reminder that the nuclear deal has done more to embolden than moderate Tehran’s ambitions, despite a cascade of U.S. concessions.”
“The Journal’s Jay Solomon and Carole Lee reported last month that the Administration secretly agreed in January to lift sanctions on two of Iran’s state banks involved in financing its ballistic-missile program seven years ahead of schedule. More recently, the Administration has granted Boeing and Airbus export licenses to sell passenger jets to Iran, and last week it issued new guidelines to facilitate dollar transactions with Iranian firms.”
“So let’s get this straight: The Administration grants the mullahs unprecedented concessions not called for by the nuclear deal, and they respond by attacking the U.S. Maybe President Obama sees a foreign-policy paradox at work. A better way of describing the dynamic might be cause-and-effect.”
So while the Iran lobby, especially the Ploughshares Fund and National Iranian American Council promised better relations with Iran, the US Navy already finds itself in a shooting war against Iranian proxies and missiles.