Iran threatened to declare war on any country that attacks a ship it says contains humanitarian aid currently making its way to Yemen, accompanied by warships. The warning came amid heightened tensions after the Islamic Republic seized a cargo ship last month.
Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier-General Massoud Jazzayeri warned that any attack on “the Iranian Red Crescent aid ship will spark war in the region. And this fire may not be put out or brought under control.”
“The US and Saudi Arabia should know that Iran’s self-restraint has a limit,” he told the Arabic-language TV Alalam, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Admiral Hossein Azad as saying that the 34th naval group “is present in the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab strait and has been given the specific mission of protecting the humanitarian aid ship.” That naval group includes the destroyer Alborz and logistic ship Bushehr, which are on a 90-day anti-piracy assignment in the region.
The aid ship left southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas on Monday and its destination is Yemen’s port city of Hudaydah on the Red Sea.
According to a statement allegedly released by aid workers, the ship carries 2,500 tons of medical supplies, flour, water and other aid, as well as relief workers, doctors, journalists and peace activists.
In Washington, US Army Col. Steve Warren said the US was monitoring the cargo ship and he warned that it would not be helpful if Iran is “planning some sort of stunt.” He said using Iranian warships to accompany the ship is not necessary and Iran should just send the cargo vessel to Djibouti, where humanitarian efforts for Yemen are being coordinated.
“The Iranians have stated that this is humanitarian aid,” Warren said.
“If that is the case, then we certainly encourage the Iranians to deliver that humanitarian aid to the United Nations humanitarian aid distribution hub, which has been established in Djibouti.”
“This will allow the aid to be rapidly and efficiently distributed to those in Yemen who require it,” he added.
There some six US warships already in the region around Yemen, including in the Gulf of Aden.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke confirmed the United States was “certainly tracking this convoy closely.”
“We would discourage any provocative actions,” he added
The US and other Western countries have accused Iran of militarily backing the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis. Both the rebels and the Islamic Republic deny that.
Tuesday’s announcement comes after Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship April 28 as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz, saying it was over a court dispute. The ship later was released, but sparked renewed tension between Iran and the US over the strait, the route for about a fifth of the world’s oil.
A five-day humanitarian cease-fire between a Saudi-led coalition and Shiite rebels and their allies began on Tuesday.