Iran rejects US claims it is ‘deeply involved’ in Houthi attacks in Red Sea

Tehran responds to US allegations it is providing the Yemeni rebel group with weapons and tactical intelligence.

Yemen's Houthi rebels have attacked and seized vessels off the country's Red Sea coast for years [File: Houthi Media Office/Handout via Reuters]

Tehran has denied claims by the United States that it is “deeply involved” in attacks by Houthi rebels on commercial ships in the Red Sea, amid reports of another Israel-affiliated merchant vessel being struck.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister on Saturday dismissed the accusations, saying the Houthis were acting on their own.

The Houthis, who control large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa, have launched more than 100 drone and missile attacks, targeting 10 merchant vessels in the Red Sea, according to the Pentagon. The group has described the attacks as a show of support for Palestinians facing Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

Tehran’s support for the Yemeni rebel group includes both weapons and tactical intelligence, the White House said on Friday as it presented newly declassified intelligence purporting to show Iranian involvement in the attacks.

“The resistance [Houthis] has its own tools… and acts in accordance with its own decisions and capabilities,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri told Mehr news agency.

“The fact that certain powers, such as the Americans and the Israelis, suffer strikes from the resistance movement… should in no way call into question the reality of the strength of the resistance in the region,” he added.

Tehran has said it supports the Houthis politically but denies sending the group weapons.

INTERACTIVE - Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb trade

The Iranian statements came after White House national security spokeswoman Adrienne Watson on Friday called the situation in the Red Sea “an international challenge that demands collective action”.

“We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” Watson said in a statement.

“This is consistent with Iran’s long-term material support and encouragement of the Houthis’ destabilising actions in the region.”

The White House said that visual analysis showed nearly identical features between Iran’s KAS-04 drones and the unmanned vehicles used by the Houthis, as well as consistent features between Iranian and Houthi missiles.

Al Jazeera could not independently verify the White House’s claims.

Al Jazeera correspondent Resul Serdar, reporting from Djibouti, said the Houthis have asserted that they have developed their own intelligence facilities over the years “that have proven to be quite effective”.

“However, US officials are insisting that the Houthis do not have the radars and that they rely on technology provided by Iran. Otherwise, these missiles that are thrown by the Houthis would just drop into the water,” Serdar added.

Maritime force

On Saturday, a Liberian-flagged chemical products tanker became the latest vessel struck, though the attack has yet to be claimed by any group.

British maritime security firm Ambrey and the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said the ship was hit by an unmanned aerial vehicle 200km (120 miles) southwest of Veraval, India

“Some structural damage was also reported and some water was taken onboard. The vessel was Israel-affiliated. She had last called Saudi Arabia and was destined for India at the time,” the firm said on its website.

The Houthi attacks have effectively rerouted a large portion of global trade by forcing freight companies to sail around Africa, imposing higher costs and delays to deliveries of energy, food and consumer goods.

More than a dozen shipping companies, including the Italian-Swiss giant Mediterranean Shipping Company, France’s CMA CGM and Denmark’s AP Moller-Maersk, have suspended transit through the Red Sea due to the attacks.

Washington earlier this week announced the launch of a multinational force, involving more than 20 countries, to protect vessels transiting the Red Sea.

Last week, a US guided-missile destroyer shot down 14 attack drones believed to have been fired from Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen.

The Houthi leadership has warned that they will strike back at “American battleships” and “American interests” if they are attacked.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies