Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said today that two missiles were fired at the USS Mason -- a Navy guided missile destroyer -- while it patrolled international waters near the coast of Yemen yesterday. According to the Department of Defense, neither of the two missiles struck the ship, having landed in the sea. No one was injured during the incident. "At approximately 7 p.m. local time today (October 9), while conducting routine operations in international waters in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, USS Mason detected two inbound missiles over a 60-minute period," said Davis. "Both missiles impacted the water before reaching the ship," said Davis. "There were no injuries to our sailors and no damage to the ship."
"We assess the missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen," said Davis. The Houthis, an armed organization that is supported by Iran, seized control of Yemen in 2015, thus precipitating intervention by neighboring Muslim states, including Saudi Arabia, to intervene militarily. Yemen's strategic position at the mouth of the Red Sea, through which millions of barrels of oil are transported through the Suez Canal, is not lost on the United States, NATO, and the Saudis.
"The United States remains committed to ensuring freedom of navigation everywhere in the world, and we will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our ships and our service members."
The launch of the missiles is believed to have been in retaliation for a strike by and apparent strike by Saudi Arabia in Yemen on a group of mourners in a funeral procession on October 8. Saudi Arabia has denied being the author of the deadly attack on the funeral. The Houthis have denied firing on the USS Mason, but did fire a third missile deep within Saudi territory.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today that Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for war crimes in Yemen. "Not only Saudi Arabia, but also those who have supported the aggression by the Saudi-led coalition against Yemeni people should be held accountable for the war crimes perpetrated in Yemen over the past year and a half," Zarif was quoted as saying by Iranian Press TV in a letter to UN Secretary Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
The USS Mason was in the southern end of the Red Sea, north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, when the attack took place. Three ships -- USS Mason, destroyer USS Paul Nitze, and afloat forward staging base USS Ponce -- had been directed to the sea off the Bab el Mandeb Strait following a missile attack over the October 1-2 weekend on a United Arab Emirates ship.
In that attack, a SWIFT transport vessel of the Emirates was heavily damaged in an attack in international waters. The attack is thought to have been directed from Houthi forces using speedboats to fire shoulder-fired missiles at the ship when it was more than 12 miles offshore. This is tactic favored by Iran, which has frequently threatened US and NATO ships in this manner. DoD said that the USS Mason utilized secret onboard defensive measures to ward off the first missile, but it was unclear what caused the missile to strike the water instead of the ship. The DoD would not say which defensive measure used against the missile or how far out the destroyer was in international waters beyond the 12 mile distance from shore. DoD spokesman Davis said that the October 9 attack is under investigation. "We take this very seriously. We will protect our people."
The attack on the USS Mason by a proxy of Iran comes despite President Barack Obama's negotiation of an accord with the Islamic Republic of Iran that lifted nuclear-related sanctions on the declared enemy of the United States. So far, the US has transferred approximately $400 million in cash to Iran as a down payment on more than $150 billion in assets that have been held up since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. While Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did not actually negotiate the deal during her tenure as Secretary of State (it was negotiated by Secretary John Kerry), she has since endorsed it.
The Houthis (a.k.a. Ansar Allah) are known to use a version of Iran's Zelzal-3 ballistic missile. Despite Iran's denials of providing military aid to the Yemeni rebels, observers say that the Islamic Republic’s military aid to the group is readily apparent. Zelzal means “earthquake” in Persian and Arabic. It is a type of unguided, mobile Iranian artillery rocket that was used, for example, during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), and is reportedly one of the first rockets ever fired by Tehran during the conflict. Iranian sources say it is a surface-to-surface, solid-fueled, “short-range rocket” that comes in three different forms, and can travel upwards of 300 km (186 miles) with a warhead that can “shower” its target with sub-munition payloads. Iran publicly debuted the Zelzal-3 at a military parade in 2007.
Ansar Allah’s Zelzal-3 may be a variant of the original Iranian version. The Zelzal may not be the first rocket or missile platform that links Tehran to Ansar Allah. In December 2015, the Houthis unveiled the Qaher-1 ballistic missile. The Qaher is based on the Soviet S-75 (SA-2), a surface-to-air missile long used in Yemen. Despite denials, it is known that Iran developed a model of the SA-2 years ago, and called it the “Sayyad.”