Pentagon claims Iranian naval convoy bound for Yemen turns back home

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Editor’s Note…

Genuine US deference or Iranian tactical maneuver? Is the US navy really there to deter Iran or to restrain the Arab coalition? With Obama at the helm – anything is possible.

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Debka File

Senior US defense officials reported Thursday, April 23, that the Iranian convoy suspected of carrying weapons for Houthi rebels in Yemen appeared to have turned around and was heading north toward Iran. Other Pentagon sources were more cautious: “This isn’t over yet,” they said, in reference to a potential showdown shaping up from Monday, when the USS Roosevelt carrier and USS Normandy missile cruiser reached the Arabian Sea. The Iranian convoy was tracked by the US, Saudi, Egyptian and UAE fleets, any one of which may have intercepted an Iranian vessels trying to unload arms for the rebels.

debkafile reported earlier that, just hours after halting military operations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia Wednesday, April 22 resumed its air strikes, bombing pro-Iranian Houthi rebel positions southwest of Taiz, after they seized a brigade base from forces loyal to fugitive President Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. debkafile’s military sources report that the Saudi-led coalition went back on a promise published Tuesday to shift its focus from military action to peace talks after Houthi rebels opted out of the ceasefire the Obama administration was trying to broker between Riyadh and Tehran. Tehran further refrained from ordering its warships to turn around and told them to stay on course for the Gulf of Aden opposite Yemen.
debkafile reported earlier Wednesday:

Wide overnight predictions of a Yemen ceasefire coming out of US mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia were unfulfilled by Wednesday, April 22. All that happened was Saudi Arabia’s termination of its air strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels – but not its sea and air blockade of the country. The rebels made it clear that for them, the war goes on. From Washington, US President Barack Obama warned Tehran against delivering weapons to Yemen that could be used to threaten shipping traffic in the region. Speaking in a televised interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” the president said: “What we’ve said to them is that ‘if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that’s a problem.’”

He was referring to the Iranian buildup of nine vessels, some carrying weapons, and warning that US warships were deploying to defend international navigation in the Gulf of Aden and the strategic Strait of Bab el-Mandeb off the shores of Yemen.
debkafile reported earlier::

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdolllahian said Tuesday night, April 21, that Tehran is optimistic that ‘in the coming hours we shall see a halt to military attacks in Yemen.”

He did not say whether the Saudi Arabia had accepted a ceasefire after three weeks of air strikes, or its targets, the Houthi rebels and their Yemeni army allies – or both. Their acceptance would terminate the Yemen civil war.

Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest tried to play down the danger of a collision between a US naval strike force led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier and an Iranian naval convoy believed to be carrying arms for the Houthis. Both were due to arrive in the Gulf of Aden opposite the Yemeni shore. Earnest said the US fleet’s mission was “to ensure the free flow of commerce” i.e. the freedom of navigation through the Gulf of Aden and Strait of Bab El-Mandeb.
He did not repeat an earlier statement by US defense officials that The Roosevelt carrier, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy and other accompanying warships had been sent to pre-empt any attempt by the Iranian vessels to unload weapons for the Houthis – in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.

Pentagon officials said an Iranian convoy of nine cargo ships had reached international waters in the Gulf of Aden, but that to their knowledge, the US and Iranian ships had not yet seen each other or made any contact.

The tone coming from the White House towards the end of the day was that the US naval buildup opposite Yemen was intended to give diplomacy a military boost, rather than confront the Iranian fleet.

Reports from Riyadh likewise pointed to active diplomacy afoot for ending the violence in Yemen.

A statement read out on Saudi-owned Arabiya TV announced the end of the kingdom’s military operation against the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. “The alliance had achieved its goals in Yemen through the “Storm of Resolve” campaign and would now begin a new operation called “Restoring Hope.”

This operation, the statement said, would focus on security at home and counter-terrorism, aid and a political solution in Yemen.
At the same time, debkafile’s Gulf sources report the same TV channel carried the opposite message from Riyadh:

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz has ordered the Kingdom’s National Guard to join the military campaign in Yemen, said another communique. Minister of the Saudi National Guard Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah said his forces are on high alert and are ready to take part in Operation Storm of Resolve, a Saudi-led coalition of 10 states battling the advance of the Iran-backed rebels.

The Saudi National Guard is a strong armed force, superior to and better equipped than the Saudi national army. It would provide a solid increment for the Saudi air strikes in Yemen.

Behind this cloud of apparent contradictions hovering over the Yemen conflict Tuesday, is an Obama administration bid to broker the contest between Saudi Arabia and Yemen and bring about a ceasefire. The various parties are meanwhile jockeying for advantageous positions without surrendering their options. If the bid is successful, a truce may be announced in the Yemen war in the coming hours, but it is still hanging fire.

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