According to senior Pentagon officials, the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt is moving into position to intercept a flotilla of Iranian ships headed for Yemen. The Pentagon thinks that the ships — 7 to 9 warships and cargo vessels — are going to try to re-supply the Houthi rebels.
The Gulf states have ships off the coast of Yemen trying to impose an arms blockade against the Houthis, so the carrier group may not actually stop and board the Iranian vessels. But stopping a hostile power’s warships on the high seas could lead to a rapid escalation by Iran, at which point, an aircraft carrier is a nice back up to have.
There is no indication that U.S. or other coalition warships have been in contact with the Iranians, but one official told NBC News, “They know we’re there.”
Some U.S. officials are concerned that the leak of the information is not good, coming at the same time as the United States and other countries try to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
“Since this is now public, the Iranians may feel they’ve been backed into a corner” and attempt to run through any blockade set up by the coalition warships, one official said.
Publicly, the Pentagon is denying that the carrier group would intercept the Iranian vessels:
Warren specifically denied a media report that the two American ships were being moved so they could assist in the interception of a flotilla of seven to nine Iranian ships headed to Yemen to re-supply Houthi rebels.
“They are not going to intercept Iranian ships,” said Warren. “That is absolutely not the case.”
On April 1, the U.S. Navy boarded a Panamanian-flagged ship that was believed might be transporting supplies from Iran to the Houthis. No weapons were found and there have been no other boardings since then.
Seven other American warships have been operating in the Gulf of Aden for weeks, including the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima.
A public confirmation of the Roosevelt’s role would inflame the situation, so it’s not surprising that officials are saying one thing in public and another in private.
The Saudis have already said they will prevent any arms from reaching Houthi rebels. This sets up a confrontation at sea with the Iranians at which time anything could happen.