Iran’s Defence Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani has warned that a planned United States-backed multinational task force to protect shipping in the Red Sea would face “extraordinary problems”.
Ashtiani’s comments came after the US said last week it was in talks with other countries to set up a task force following a spate of attacks by the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen on ships in the Red Sea, Iranian state media reported on Thursday.
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“If they make such an irrational move, they will be faced with extraordinary problems,” Ashtiani told the official Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
“Nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance,” he said, referring to the Red Sea.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters last week that Washington was in talks with “other countries” over forming a “maritime task force … to ensure safe passage of ships in the Red Sea”, but did not give further details.
Washington’s 12-nation coalition task force would reportedly involve warships from at least four countries’ navies: the US, France, the United Kingdom and Israel.
With a coalition, the number of warships would increase and they could attack targets inside Yemen like launch sites, command facilities and missile storage sites.
In response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, following the October 7 Hamas offensive, Yemen’s Houthis have been attacking vessels sailing through the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean – a narrow passage that is the world’s third-largest choke point for oil shipments after the straits of Hormuz and Malacca.
More than six million barrels pass through here every day, mainly on their way to Europe.
Attacks on international shipping escalated with the capture of the Galaxy Leader in November and then culminated in rocket and drone attacks against unarmed commercial cargo ships and heavily armed naval vessels of several countries.
In response, American and French navies have already strengthened their presence in the Red Sea to protect vessels from the risk of seizure or attack by the Houthis.
Yet, Houthis have a history of attacking ships in the Red Sea. In January 2017, during their conflict with a Saudi-led coalition, they attacked the frigate Al Madinah using three remote-controlled unmanned explosive boats, forcing the Royal Saudi Navy to withdraw from Yemeni waters.
Encouraged by their success, in May and July 2018, they attacked two huge Saudi oil tankers with Iranian-built cruise missiles, similar to those used in recent attacks. Neutral-flagged ships were also attacked in the same period.
Following the seizure of the Galaxy Leader, the US was reported to be considering designating the Houthi movement, a “terror group” for involvement in “piracy of a ship in international waters”, and has targeted their funding networks.