Iran sends more weapons to Yemen’s Houthis as part of ceasefire effort (Pentagon)

Tehran is sending increasingly complex weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen even as Iranian officials engage in separate talks with the United States and Saudi Arabia over reducing tensions in the region, a senior official said on Tuesday. of the Pentagon.

“In the context of Yemen, we have seen more Houthi attacks launched against Saudi Arabia in the first half of this year than we have had in previous years,” Dana Stroul told lawmakers. , the Pentagon’s top Middle East policy official. on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Iran increases the lethality and complexity of both the equipment and knowledge it transfers to the Houthis so that they can attack Saudi territory [and] Saudi civilians ”, Stroul told lawmakers.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who Western officials say received support and training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have continued to launch ballistic missile and drone strikes in Saudi Arabia in recent years. in response to Riyadh’s military campaign in support of the Yemeni government. . The technology is also coming from Iran, US officials said.

Stroul’s comments come as senior Iranian and Saudi officials are would have fixed meet in Baghdad as well as other regional representatives later this month. Saudi and Iranian officials had preliminary talks aimed at easing tensions between their parties in Baghdad earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic push led by the Biden administration to end the civil war in Yemen remains at a standstill. Iran-linked Houthi rebels continue to ignore a Saudi-proposed ceasefire in March, pushing for further territorial gains on the ground after capturing most of Yemen’s population centers in recent years .

The Houthis have demanded a complete end to the Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, which rights groups say has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis of the war – the world’s worst, according to the United Nations.

The Biden administration is still counting on the rebels to come to the peace talks table, Yemen’s envoy Timothy Lenderking told reporters on Monday.

“The Houthis are not winning in Marib,” Lenderking said, referring to a deadlocked rebel offensive against one of the last cities under government control.

“And when that reality comes to the people, to the Houthis, I think it will force them to realize that the continued isolation and the fact that the conflict is more of a stalemate will make them back down, and I hope to get them to the negotiating table, ”he said.

The United States is urging the Saudis to allow more fuel deliveries to Hodeidah, the envoy noted.

The Biden administration said in February it had ended US support for Saudi-led military operations in Yemen in response to criticism of the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war, but US contractors continue to uphold the Royal Saudi Air Force in the midst of its campaign in Yemen, something from a number of current Biden administration officials publicly criticized under the Trump administration.

The US, UK and Israel claim Iran was also behind a deadly drone strike on a commercial tanker in the Gulf of Oman last month. Last week, the U.S. Central Command publicly revealed evidence demonstrating Iran’s involvement in the attack on the ship, called Mercer Street.

The July 29 attack killed the Romanian captain of the ship and a British security officer. The Iranian government has denied responsibility for the incident.

Asked by Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana on Tuesday if she could confirm According to reports that the drone that hit Mercer Street was launched from Yemen, Stroul said, “Yes, I can confirm the information. … This was an Iran-backed one-way drone attack on Mercer Street. “

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby later retracted his statement, tweet that Stroul had not confirmed the link with Yemen but rather was referring to the CENTCOM survey, which did not mention Yemen.

“She hasn’t confirmed or denied anything,” a Defense Ministry source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

CENTCOM said last week that the Mercer Street attack occurred “within range” of previous attacks allegedly launched from the Iranian coast.

The Pentagon has yet to publicly rule out possible involvement in a response to the attack, but so far the Biden administration appears to have taken a multilateral approach. A joint statement by members of the Group of Seven industrialized countries on Friday condemned the attack on civil commercial shipping as a “clear violation of international law”.

“All the available evidence clearly points to Iran. There is no justification for this attack, ”the statement said.

The Mercer Street incident is the latest case of sabotage targeting cargo ships in the Gulf region as Israel leads a covert campaign against Iran’s attempts to expand its military reach and influence in the region.

Newly sworn-in Iranian conservative President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday signaled to French President Emmanuel Macron that Tehran had little interest in backing down amid tensions with Israel, the United States and its Western allies.

Meanwhile, indirect talks between officials in the Biden administration and their Iranian counterparts in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled.

Iranian officials are said to be seeking assurances that a future US administration will not abandon the deal like Trump did in the White House in 2018.

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