The Pentagon said on Tuesday that two Iranian warships have "linked up" with a cargo ship that Iran has said is carrying humanitarian aid to Yemen due to arrive at the Yemeni port of Hodaida on Thursday.
US and allied officials are debating how they should handle an Iranian cargo ship that is flanked by two warships and heading toward a Yemeni port, reportedly carrying humanitarian supplies for the war-torn nation, according to AP.
US officials say they haven't decided whether the US or other navies in the area - including Saudi Arabia and Egypt - will block or try to inspect the cargo ship before it gets to Yemen.
At least five US warships are in the western Gulf of Aden or off the coast of Djibouti and are positioned to respond if needed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly.
US and other Western leaders have accused Iran of militarily backing the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, and providing them with weapons.
The supply ship has moved closer to the port of Hodeida just as a five-day truce expires between the rebels and the Saudi-led coalition that is backing internationally-recognised President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is now in exile in Riyadh.
Sanaa witnessed one of the most intense nights of Saudi air strikes on the city on Tuesday night.
The US has been supporting the Saudi-led coalition, and has urged Iran to send the cargo ship to Djibouti, where the United Nations is coordinating humanitarian aid for Yemen.
Iran warned last week that it would protect the supply ship. US Army Col. Steve Warren said Tuesday that two Iranian warships linked up with the cargo vessel overnight Monday.
As the cargo ship moves closer to Hodeida, the US and other allies have a number of options. An immediate goal is to have UN officials pressure Tehran to reroute the ship to Djibouti. If that doesn't work, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or other coalition members could interdict the ship and inspect the cargo to ensure there are no weapons aboard.
Less desirable options, officials said, would include letting the Iranian ship dock in Yemen and then urging the Iranians to allow an inspection there. Or, if coalition members are not convinced that the ship is only carrying humanitarian aid, they could destroy the cargo once it's unloaded.
The debate comes as the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday carried out the heaviest air strikes on the Yemeni capital since the five-day truce expired earlier this week, hitting weapons depots in the mountains surrounding Sanaa and sending dozens of families fleeing their homes in panic.
The Yemeni conflict has killed 1,820 people and wounded 7,330 since March 19, according to UN estimates. The estimates also show that nearly a half million people at least have been displaced in the period since the beginning of the fighting until May 7.