Iran continues to play a role in the conflict in Yemen by providing Houthi militias with ballistic missiles and weapons, according to commander of US 5th Fleet Vice Admiral Scott Stearney.
Stearney said that Tehran’s support for the Houthis enabled them to threaten the shipping and international trade route through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
Speaking during a teleconference from the 5th Fleet’s headquarters in Manama, Bahrain, Stearney was responding to recent threats to global shipping at the narrow choke points of the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb.
He indicated that the Fleet is aware of the operations carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen, and asserted that the US supports UN Resolution 2216, which bans weapons smuggling.
“Iran continues to develop advanced ballistic missile capability and transfer them to the Houthis and Hezbollah, which will allow them to further destabilize the areas of the region that is in their malign interests,” he added.
He stressed that Iran is supporting the militias that are preventing the distribution of humanitarian and medical aid in cholera-infected areas.
In addition, Stearney said Washington welcomed Saudi Arabia’s statement that exposed Iranian role in Yemen through the shipment of weapons to Houthis.
When asked about US Navy’s position if Iran closed Hormuz, Stearney refused to discuss a theoretical scenario.
He instead said that the “US and our partners stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce wherever international law allows,” asserting that Washington will “counter any threats to protect our interest and safeguard maritime trade.”
The fleet, whose aircraft carriers recently launched brand new F-35 stealth fighters, is currently conducting four naval exercises focused on the three critical congestion points.
“These combined exercises show that the US and its partners stand ready to defend the free flow of shipping,” said Stearney.
He denied reports that these exercises were in response to Iranian posturing on the Hormuz Strait or recently reported smuggling activities in the Gulf of Aden. “These exercises are not in response to any one action or threat in particular,” he told the reporters.
“All of our exercises were planned well prior to any of the recent events,” he asserted.
The region’s maritime routes are critical to the flow of commerce worldwide, he concluded. “We are here for the stability and the security of this region.”