A video posted early last week by al-Masirah TV, a pro-Houthi station, showed the frigate as it was attacked. However, because of the camera’s distance it was unclear if a missile or suicide vessel had hit the ship. On Tuesday, the Saudi Press Agency said three suicide vessels had attacked the frigate. The Madinah repelled two but one hit the stern, causing a fire on board, the press agency said. The ship returned to port in Jeddah under its own power over the weekend.
After the attack, the Pentagon offered support to Saudi Arabia and in recent days the U.S. destroyer, the USS Cole, transited the area where the Madinah was attacked, said Pentagon spokesman Chris Sherwood. Media reports after the suicide bombing indicated that the attack might have been intended for a U.S. ship as translations of the footage posted by al-Masirah TV indicate that those watching the attack were chanting “death to Israel” and “death to America” before the explosion. Sherwood said there were no intelligence reports that said the Houthi suicide vessel was trying to target a U.S. ship.
In October, just days after Houthi fighters severely damaged an Emerati transport ship near the Mandeb Strait, rebels fired anti-ship missiles at U.S. warships sent to patrol the waters where the Emerati vessel had been attacked. In both instances the missiles were intercepted by the U.S. ships. In retaliation, the Pentagon ordered a Tomahawk cruise missile strike on the three Houthi radar installations that were apparently active during the attacks.
Houthi rebels, long considered an Iranian proxy force by Saudi Arabia, have fought for control of Yemen since they overthrew the pro-U.S. government there in 2014.
In 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by other Gulf States, began an air campaign followed by a concerted ground attack, in an effort to retake the country. The United States has supported the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, aerial refueling and arms sales, while U.S. Special Operations troops have worked with the Emerati counterterrorism forces in Yemen that are targeting al-Qaeda elements there.
On Thursday, President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, said the administration was putting Iran “on notice” for its apparent hand in the Saudi frigate attack and a recent ballistic missile test.
According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict and Saudi Arabia has received widespread international condemnation for its bombing campaign, which has killed civilians on multiple occasions.