Iran deploys warship to Red Sea amid soaring tensions

Alborz warship enters Bab al-Mandeb Strait, Iranian media reports a day after Yemen’s Houthis say 10 fighters killed.

Bab al-Mandeb strait
The United States in early December set up a multinational naval task force for the Red Sea [File: Reuters]

Iran’s Alborz warship has entered the Red Sea through the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, Iran’s Tasnim news agency has reported, at a time of heightened tensions over the globally important waterway.

“The Alborz destroyer entered the Red Sea … by passing through the Bab al-Mandeb” waterway at the southern tip of the Red Sea, connecting with the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean, the news agency said on Monday.

It added that Iran’s naval fleet has been operating in the area “to secure shipping lanes, repel pirates, among other purposes since 2009”.

The United States in early December set up a multinational naval task force for the Red Sea following a flurry of missile and drone attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels on merchant vessels, which led shipping companies to suspend passages through the now highly militarised area.

The Houthis say the attacks were in solidarity with Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, where Israel is continuing a months-long bombardment campaign.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 12 percent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, which provides a shortcut past Africa via the Suez Canal.

The Tasnim report comes a day after US Navy helicopters fired on Houthi rebels attempting to board a cargo ship off Yemen, with the rebels reporting 10 fighters dead.

It also comes after Sayyed Razi Mousavi, one of the top commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria, was killed in an Israeli air strike outside of Damascus last week.

UK threatens ‘direct action’

Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from Djibouti, said that Iran sending a warship to the region was not a “new” development.

“From time to time”, there have been Iranian warships operating in this area, he said. “These waters are open to Iranian warships, as they’re open to many countries.”

Serdar said “more and more warships” are now amassing in the region, including those belonging to the US and Britain.

Separately, Iran’s security chief, Ali Akbar Ahmadian, held a meeting with top Houthi negotiator Mohammad Abdulsalam, according to the state-run news agency IRNA.

It is unclear where or when the meeting took place, but Iranian media quoted Ahmadian as saying Tehran praised the Houthis for supporting Palestinians and standing up to Israel.

Regional tensions have spiked since the start of Israel’s assault on Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attacks.

On Monday, Britain’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain was “willing to take direct action” against the Houthis “to deter threats to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea”.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron had spoken on Sunday with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian about the Red Sea tensions.

“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks,” he said on social media, noting Tehran’s “long-standing support” for the Houthis.

Abdollahian criticised the “double standards” of some Western countries, according to a statement from Iran’s foreign ministry, saying the “Israeli regime cannot be allowed … to set the region on fire” with the Gaza war.

The US previously accused Iran of being “deeply involved” in the Houthi attacks. Iran has denied such accusations, saying the Houthi rebels were acting on their own.

In 2021, the Alborz repulsed a pirate attack against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Aden.

And in 2015, it was one of two Iranian warships sent to the strait “to ensure the safety of commercial ships” in what was seen at the time as a sign of tensions with Saudi Arabia.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies