Washington (AP + diplomat.so) - Iran is believed to be significantly involved in the ship attacks conducted by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, according to Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the head of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Cooper stopped short of asserting direct Iranian direction of specific Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden but acknowledged an expansion of attacks associated with Iran across the wider Middle East.
Cooper described the Houthi actions as the most significant attacks on merchant shipping in two generations. The attacks, which the Houthis link to the Israel-Hamas war, have targeted international vessels passing through the waterways leading to Egypt's Suez Canal since November. The U.S. has responded with seven rounds of airstrikes on Houthi military sites in recent days.
Iran's mission to the United Nations and the Houthi leadership in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, did not provide comments. The Houthis later claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S.-flagged vessel, an assertion not immediately independently corroborated.
Cooper emphasized that Iran is funding, resourcing, supplying, and providing training to the Houthis, making it clear that Iran is directly involved in fueling the attacks on shipping. The situation is described as the most precarious in the region since the Tanker War of the 1980s.
Concerns about a regional conflict over the Israel-Hamas war are growing, leading to increased tensions in the wider Middle East. Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed an attack on the U.S.-flagged ship Ocean Jazz in the Gulf of Aden, a claim disputed by a U.S. defense official who stated that there was no report of an attack.
Cooper spoke to the AP from a drone conference in Abu Dhabi, where the U.S. Navy's Task Force 59, a drone fleet, is helping patrol the region's waterways. The Navy continues to face a serious threat from the Houthis, and Cooper emphasized the need for a Houthi decision to stop attacking international merchant ships.
Cooper's command is set to end in February with the arrival of Rear Adm. George Wikoff in Bahrain. The situation remains fluid as global economic risks persist due to ships bypassing the Suez Canal, impacting Egypt's revenue and potentially contributing to higher global inflation.