Iranian ship convoy moving toward Yemen
A convoy of 7 to 9 Iranian ships is moving toward Yemen and the Pentagon is worried that it may be an attempt to resupply the Houthi rebels.
What will the Saudis do?
What's unusual about the new deployment, which set out this week, is that the Iranians are not trying to conceal it, officials said. Instead, they appear to be trying to "communicate it" to the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf.
It is not clear what will happen as the convoy comes closer to Yemen. Saudi Arabia has deployed ships around Yemen to enforce the blockade, as has Egypt. An official said the ship convoy could try to land at a port in Aden, which the Houthis have taken over.
Although the U.S. is assisting with the Saudi-led air campaign, it is not participating in the naval blockade of Yemen, said U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder.
However, the U.S. Navy is in the region and has already "consensually boarded" one Panamanian-flagged ship in the Red Sea on April 1 on the suspicion it was illegally carrying arms for the Houthis.
None were found, but the move raised alarm bells in Washington over an increasingly active U.S. military role in the conflict. The Pentagon indicated this week that more boardings could occur.
"We will continue to vigilantly defend freedom of navigation and to conduct consensual searches in an effort to ensure that drugs, human trafficking, weapons trafficking and other contraband are limited," Army Col. Steve Warren said on Monday.
Officials fear a naval confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia could escalate what has become a proxy war between the two countries.
The U.S. has been supporting the airstrikes with intelligence and logistical support, and last week began refueling Saudi fighter jets. Administration officials say it is important to support Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this week, a senior State Department official said the U.S. would try to ensure that a United Nations Security Council arms embargo against Houthi leadership is enforced.
"We will be taking very careful look and examining very closely efforts to violate the embargo," senior State Department official Gerald Feierstein told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Unless the fanatics in Tehran have completely gone off the deep end, I can't believe Iran wants to go to war against the Saudis anytime soon. A war would scuttle the talks with the US and keep sanctions in place for the foreseeable future. The Iranian military is a hollow shell and would be no match for the Arab army assembled by The Kingdom.
But the Saudis need to be cautious as well. They do not wish to test the solidarity of their Arab allies by plunging into a sectarian war over Yemen. So it is likely that both sides will be careful to avoid a confrontation.
But that's the problem; the situation is unpredictable and fraught with unknowns. Wars have begun with both sides wanting to avoid it - but it happens anyway. There's always a danger of miscalculation and when two sides in a proxy war are in such close proximity, many things can go wrong.