By Kristina Wong – 10/19/16 01:26 PM EDT
The top U.S. commander in the Middle East said he suspects Iran is playing a role in recent missile launches by Houthi rebels in Yemen against U.S. ships in the Red Sea.
“I do think that Iran is playing a role in some of this. They have a relationship with the Houthis, so I do suspect there is a role in that,” said U.S. Central Command leader Army Gen. Joseph Votel at the Center for American Progress.
It was the closest a U.S. official has come to directly attributing the missile attacks to Iran, which supports the Houthis in their civil war against the embattled regime.
Last week, U.S. ships were fired upon at least two times while in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, prompting a U.S. destroyer to destroy three radar sites that U.S. officials say they believe were used in the missile launches.
The Houthis are rebels in Yemen who ousted the Western-backed government from the capital of Sana’a in September 2014.
Officials only said the missile launches were from “Houthi-controlled territory” in Yemen and said they did not know who actually pulled the trigger, or who exactly was to blame.
Attributing fault to Iran for the missile launches would raise the question of what the U.S. would do in response, at a time when the Obama administration has been trying to smooth relations with Iran.
The missile launches at the USS Mason, USS Ponce and USS San Antonio came after a Saudi strike hit a Houthi funeral, killing 140 mourners, including a number of senior Houthi leaders.
The Houthis receive weapons and military support from Iran, while the ousted regime receives military support from a Saudi-led Arab coalition conducting airstrikes against the Houthis.
Votel said the former Yemeni regime, under President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has also been backing the Houthis rebels, may have played a role as well.
The Pentagon said it is still trying to figure out whether there was an additional missile launch on Saturday, after the U.S. destroyed the radar sites.
“What we are trying to do is make sure we understand this as much as we can so we can properly attribute what is happening and understand how these attacks are taking place and, more importantly, how the decisions are being made to launch these attacks so we can take action against that,” Votel said.