American warships are prepared to intercept a convoy of Iranian ships suspected of carrying weapons to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, senior defense and military officials told NBC News on Monday.
An Iranian convoy of freighters, escorted by warships from the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guard forces, appears headed for Yemen, the officials said.
They emphasized that while the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier group would be in position to intercept the convoy, an intercept could also be carried out by Saudi Arabia, Egypt or the United Arab Emirates, which are patrolling the waters off Yemen.
Supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia has led Sunni Arab countries in carrying out more than three weeks of airstrikes targeting the rebels, who are backed by Iran and have seized parts of Yemen.
There is no indication that U.S. or other coalition warships have been in contact with the Iranians, but one official told NBC News, "They know we're there."
Some U.S. officials are concerned that the leak of the information is not good, coming at the same time as the United States and other countries try to reach a final agreement on Iran's nuclear program.
"Since this is now public, the Iranians may feel they've been backed into a corner" and attempt to run through any blockade set up by the coalition warships, one official said.
Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Anthony Hopkins II/US NAVY / Reuters