Washington (AFP) - Houthi rebels in Yemen are threatening free movement into and out of the Red Sea with missiles, mines and other sophisticated defenses on a key strait, a top US general said Wednesday.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, a strategic passage for world trade.
Bordering it to the east, Yemen is locked in a deadly civil war between government forces backed by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Iran-supported Houthis.
Acting "with the support of Iran," the rebels have deployed "coastal defense missiles, radar systems, mines and explosives boats that have been migrated from the Strait of Hormuz," US Central Command chief General Joe Votel told the House Armed Services Committee.
The installations threaten "commerce and ships and our security operations in the area," he said.
"I am extraordinarily concerned about another contested maritime chokepoint in the region," Votel said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reported to support increasing military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also recommended aiding forces from the United Arab Emirates driving Houthi rebels from the key port of Hodeida on the Red Sea, The Washington Post reported.
He suggested increasing air-to-air refueling and intelligence support the US military already provides the Arab coalition.
"I am extraordinarily concerned about another contested maritime chokepoint in the region," Votel said, referring to tensions with Iran over the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean.
Tensions with Iran are already high in the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean.
More than 300 "incidents" take place in the Strait of Hormuz each year, Votel said, about 10 to 15 percent of which he said were either "unprofessional" or "unsafe," putting US vessels and crews at risk.
The actions reflect Iran's aim to become "the predominant power" in the Middle East, Votel said.