In a weekend escalation of tensions in the Middle East, Iran issued a stern warning to the United States concerning two cargo ships, the Behshad and Saviz, long suspected by the U.S. of being forward operating bases for Iranian commandos. This warning comes in the wake of a significant airstrike campaign by the U.S. and the United Kingdom against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Iran’s statement, focused on the Behshad and Saviz ships, underscores Tehran’s unease following U.S. military actions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, aimed at militias backed by Iran. These U.S. strikes are a response to the killing of three American soldiers and the injury of dozens more in Jordan, an incident tracing its roots back to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. This series of events has heightened the risk of a broader regional conflict.
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The U.S. offensive in Yemen struck multiple Houthi-held provinces, including their capital, Sanaa. While the Houthis have not provided a damage assessment, the U.S. has reported targeting underground missile sites, launch pads, and rebel helicopters.
In response, Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree stated, “These attacks will not discourage Yemeni forces and the nation from maintaining their support for Palestinians in the face of the Zionist occupation and crimes.” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron have both warned of further consequences if the Houthis continue their attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.
The Behshad and Saviz registered to a Tehran-based company sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury, have been under suspicion for years as spy positions for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Saudi Arabia, in 2017, labeled the Saviz as a maritime base for weapon transfers. Recent Iranian statements have referred to these ships as “floating armories,” with a purported mission of countering piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. However, Iran’s role in anti-piracy operations remains unconfirmed.
Before the latest U.S. airstrike campaign, the Behshad moved south into the Gulf of Aden and is currently docked in Djibouti, near a Chinese military base. The Saviz, in the Indian Ocean, has been the target of suspected attacks in the past, including a 2021 incident where a mine explosion damaged the ship, an act thought to be part of the ongoing shadow conflict between Tehran and Israel following the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran’s latest statement includes a veiled threat, warning against terrorist activities targeting these vessels and highlighting the potential risks to international maritime security. The U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet has not commented on these threats.