A convoy of Iranian cargo ships that had been headed toward war-torn Yemen, possibly with advanced weaponry for Houthi rebels, has reversed its direction, at least temporarily, a US defense official said Thursday.
The official said it remains unclear where the nine-ship convoy may be headed now, but as of Thursday it was no longer moving in the direction of the Yemeni port of Aden.
The official was not authorized to discuss ship movements publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that the Iranian ships might be carrying weapons to the Houthis, but he would not say whether the US would forcibly stop and board one of the Iranian ships if it entered Yemeni waters.
Yemen, strategically located near key shipping routes and bordering oil-rich Saudi Arabia, is sinking deeper into a multi-sided civil conflict.
The fighting has drawn in armed groups including the Iran-backed Houthi rebels allied with renegade army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, against supporters of fugitive President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin on Thursday accused Iran of trying to break a naval blockade on his country aimed at cutting off supplies to the Shiite rebels.
“Iran is carrying out desperate attempts to violate the naval blockade on Yemen,” Yassin said in a joint news conference with his Bahraini counterpart Khalid Al-Khalifa.
Bahrain is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes against the rebels as well as imposed the naval blockade.
Yassin described the Yemen conflict as an “attack on all Yemenis based on an Iranian plot implemented by the Houthi militia.”
The United States, which has provided logistics and intelligence support to the coalition, has sent an aircraft carrier to monitor the movements of Iranian ships near Yemen.
Shiite Iran has strongly criticized the intervention in Yemen and has rejected accusations of arming the rebels.
Yassin is visiting Bahrain as part of a delegation led by Vice President Khaled Bahah, also prime minister of the government-in-exile operating from Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.
Bahah was received on Thursday by Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa who reassured him on Manama’s “commitment to supporting its regional allies in their efforts to restore peace and security in Yemen,” the official Bahrain News Agency reported.
Bahrain itself accuses Tehran of backing the Sunni dynasty’s Shiite opponents.