US sends 'The Big Stick' to patrol off Yemen coast.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt left the Persian Gulf Sunday night and the Pentagon, which normally refuses to announce where ships are going, publicly let it be known it was headed for Yemen.
This prompted a great many hyperbolic news stories about a possible US-Iran naval clash off Yemen.
Some stories spoke of the Roosevelt being used to stop and search Iranian ships. But an aircraft carrier is too big and lumbering to be used for ship searches. However, all the other US Navy warships in the area are equipped to do such searches.
Military analysts said the dispatch of the carrier was a political move meant to intimidate Iran and make clear the US meant business in hopes that any cargo ships bearing arms would turn around to avoid a confrontation.
If any of the Iranian cargo ships tried to go into a Yemeni port, there is little doubt they would be stopped and searched--if not by the US Navy, then by the Egyptian or Saudi warships that are also in the area and blockading Yemeni ports to keep out any arms deliveries.
However, it isn't known if the Iranian cargo ships are actually headed for Yemen; they could well be going somewhere else.
The US Navy has not boarded any Iranian ships, but it did board a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship April 1 to search for arms. It found none.
In addition to the Roosevelt, the US Navy now has eight warships off Yemen--the cruiser Normandy, two destroyers, two minesweepers and three amphibious ships carrying 2,200 Marines. The warships are supported by three re-supply ships.
The nine-nation Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia ended its air campaign Tuesday after four weeks. But it said it was not ending its blockade of Yemeni ports.
The blockade follows a vote by the UN Security Council last week to impose an arms embargo on the Houthi rebels. That was approved on a 14-0 vote with Russia abstaining.
Iran denies that it has supplied any weapons or other military goods to the Houthis. The United States said Iran supplied token aid going back several years but in recent years upgraded its support. Last week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Iran had recently been making "large shipments of weapons" to the Houthis.
He said nothing about any Iranian advisers being present in Yemen. However, Reuters reported that an unnamed Iranian official had told it in December that a "few hundred" Pasdar officers from the Qods Force were in Yemen providing training and that around a hundred Houthi militiamen had come to Iran for training.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic continued its scorching rhetoric against Saudi Arabia for its air campaign against the Houthis. The Fars news agency, which is believed close to the Pasdaran, has been the most prolific in charging the Saudis with every kind of vile conduct. One story last week was headlined: "Saudi airstrikes targeting Yemeni Children." Another said, "Saudiled airstrikes hit residential areas in Yemen." Fars also asserted that a US Navy cruiser had launched at least two cruise missiles at Sanaa, Yemen's capital.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt is nicknamed "The Big Stick," after the aphorism made famous by TR: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."