BY BRAD DRESS
Iran this week moved a warship to the Red Sea in what could be an escalation in the Middle East as the U.S. battles the Iranian-backed Houthis in the region and recently sunk three boats.
The Iranian Alborz destroyer passed the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Monday before it entered the Red Sea, according to Iranian state media outlet Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
State media did not report what the Iranian warship would be doing in the Red Sea, but noted the deployment comes amid rising tensions across the Middle East as the Israel-Hamas war rages.
The Iranian warship will at the very least ruffle the feathers of the U.S. and its new maritime coalition tasked with defending the Red Sea from the Houthis in Yemen.
But Tehran’s destroyer could also pose a more direct threat if Iran decides to intervene in any conflict between the U.S. and the Houthis.
In addition to spearheading a task force to defend against the Houthis, the U.S. has several ships deployed to the eastern Mediterranean near the Red Sea to prevent a wider conflict from breaking out as Israel battles the militant Palestinian group Hamas.
The Houthis, who say they are targeting Israeli-based ships or boats headed to Israel, attacked and then attempted to board another vessel owned by container shipping giant Maersk on Sunday.
After receiving a distress call, the U.S. thwarted the assault by sinking three of the boats with helicopters.
A senior Houthi official said the U.S. attack on their force’s naval assets killed 10 soldiers and was a major escalation, vowing to retaliate, according to IRNA.
Houthi rebels have plagued the Red Sea since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, firing sometimes a dozen rockets at U.S. ships. They seized a merchant ship in November and damaged another one last month.
The U.S. task force, made up of several nations primarily in Europe and the Western world, seeks to deter the Houthi threat by patrolling the Red Sea and defending merchant ships, many of which have canceled trips through the transit corridor near Yemen, hiking up prices.
It’s not clear if the task force will lower the intensity of the battling, as the Houthis have pledged to keep up the pace of attacks. But Israel has moved to reduce its military presence in Gaza, bending to U.S. pressure after nearly three months of war, which may reduce Middle East tensions