Iranian state media announced on Sunday that a ship purportedly carrying aid for Yemen had reached the Gulf of Aden and would be in Hodaida port early on May 21. The ship is being escorted by Iranian naval vessels, and Iranians have “warned of war” if the ship is attacked by Saudi or allied forces enforcing a blockade. Iranian authorities have ruled out any inspection of the ship.
The Iranians have stocked the ship with seven Western “activists” (including a native of Ohio), and may be trying to recreate some of the same headaches that Gaza “peace flotillas” from Turkey cause Israel. “If they prevent (the ship from docking), which is likely, this is a major human rights violation,” Iranian media quoted the Ohioan as saying.
But the Mavi Mamara was testing a democracy trying to maintain a (quasi-)peacetime blockade, and this time the Iranians, notwithstanding their humanitarian cover, are trying to run a blockade in the midst of a shooting war. The Saudi coalition resumed its bombing of Houthi rebels in Yemen amid reports that the rebels had used the ceasefire, in effect since last Tuesday, to mass missiles along the Saudi border. The Saudi regime is not nearly so susceptible to public or liberal internationalist opinion as Israel was, and feels its it is under serious threat.
Meanwhile, as we noted on Friday, the Iranians may well have drawn the conclusion from their recent run of quasi-piracy in the Persian Gulf that they can fire shots at sea without any greater consequences. Now, they appear to want to force the Yemeni blockade issue directly with the Saudis. This is one heck of a powder keg to start lighting matches beside.