Saudi-Iranian saber-rattling over Yemen has reached a dangerous peak, Thursday, April 9, the Saudi army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Al-Assiri, warned: “Iranian ships have the right to be present in international waters, but won’t be allowed to enter Yemeni territorial waters.”
This was Riyadh’s rapid-fire riposte for the Iranian decision to deploy its navy’s 34th Flotilla, consisting of the Alborz destroyer and the Bushehr helicopter carrier warship, in the Gulf of Aden opposite the Yemeni coast.
The Saudi general noted that Iran had not evacuated any of its citizens from Yemen because, he said, “they are all involved in training and arming the Houthis.”
Soon after launching their air offensive in late March against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ousted president Ali Saleh, the Saudis took control of the country’s airspace to prevent the landing of airlifted Iranian supplies for the Houthis. Russian flights were also barred later from landing in the embattled country.
Gen. Al-Assiri then issued Saudi Arabia’s bluntest threat yet: “Those Iranians planning to remain in the country would face the same fate as the Houthis and their supporters,” he said.
Clearly, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards personnel were being trapped in a Saudi vice: Unable to leave Yemen, on the one hand, they were threatened with death if caught, on the other.
The Bushehr helicopter carrier made its maiden voyage to Port Sudan at the end of 2012. Shortly after that, on Dec. 8 of that year, debkafile first revealed is features:
The new 13,000-ton vessel carries 12 Iranian strike helicopters, a crew of 200 and has a range of 8,000 nautical miles that reaches the US coast. There are five landing spots on its decks and four parking spots, as well as SM-1 and SAM anti-air missiles and 40-mm Fath-40 AAA anti-air cannon. Tehran invested $800 million in its first helicopter carrier.
If Tehran is not scared off by the Saudi threat and does order the Bushehr to sail into Yemeni territorial waters, its guns and missiles would be in range there to strike targets in neighboring Saudi Arabia to the north. Tehran could justify this attack by Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi having been granted asylum in the oil kingdom.