A fleet of Iranian warships arrived near the southern coast of Yemen on Wednesday in a move likely to add greater tension in a developing U.S.-Iranian standoff in the region, according Iranian military leaders.
Just days after the United States announced it would send its own warships to Yemen in order to prevent Iran from smuggling weapons to terror forces fighting there, a flotilla of Iranian destroyers docked in the same area.
Iran’s military moves are likely to increase tensions between the two countries as each seeks to bolster opposing sides in the fight currently unfolding in Yemen.
An Iranian fleet including a destroyer warship and a helicopter-carrying warship arrived in the waters off the southern tip of Yemen on Wednesday, according to Iranian state-controlled media.
The warships will "protect [Iran’s] cargo ships and oil tankers against pirates," according to Iran’s Fars News Agency.
The United States and other countries fear Iran is using these cargo ships to deliver weapons and other deadly hardware to opposition forces in Yemen.
The Iranian warships will remain in the area for at least three months, according to Fars.
Iranian military officials have been defiant about the country’s presence in the region, vowing to remain there despite pressure from other countries.
"This presence [of Iranian warships] continues in the free waters, including the Gulf of Aden, to fight against piracy according to the plan which was drawn at the request of the International Maritime Organization and no one can warn the Iranian warships (to move away) and this has not happened yet," Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was quoted as saying in the Iranian press over the weekend.
"We don’t have such a plan" to leave the area anytime soon "and we hope that security will be established in the Gulf of Aden with the help of all countries," Sayyari said.
"There is no need for our flotilla of warships to dock in Yemen, but we are present in the Gulf of Aden powerfully and at present, our 34th fleet has been sent to the region," he added.
Iran will not be deterred by threats from Saudi Arabia or other countries to leave the region, Sayyari said.
"We also don’t allow others to threaten or warn us since we can be present in the free and international waters based on the international laws," he was quoted as saying. "We haven’t entered the territorial waters of any country without permission."
The United States recently sent its own fleet of warships to the region in a bid to respond to Iranian efforts to smuggle weapons to rebel forces in Yemen.
The move is meant to give the United States "options" should Iran be caught smuggling dangerous materials.