Iran further escalates tensions with Saudi Arabia through Yemen proxies

Tehran has denied involvement with the Houthis but boastful statements from Iranian officials indicated otherwise.

Extreme vigilance. Saudi border guards keep watch along the border with Yemen in al-Khubah area in the southern Jizan province. (AFP)

2017/12/24 Issue: 137 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mohammed Alkhereiji

London- For the third time in two months, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels launched a ballistic missile targeting Riyadh, an attack a senior US official said bore the hallmarks of Tehran.

Saudi air defences intercepted a ballistic missile fired December 19 by the Houthis, an official statement from Riyadh said. The weapon was said to have targeted residential areas.

The statement said the attack proved the continued involvement of Iran in supporting the Houthis “with advanced capabilities in clear and stark defiance and breach of UN Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231.”

The December 19 assault was preceded by a missile attack December 1 and an attempt target­ing Riyadh’s King Khalid Interna­tional Airport on November 4.

US Ambassador to the United Na­tions Nikki Haley, also on December 19, told the Security Council that evidence concerning Iran arming the Houthi militia was mounting and those actions violated the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and China, France, Russia, the Unit­ed Kingdom, the United States and Germany.

“This is the secretary-general’s fourth report on the Iranian regime’s lack of full compliance with Resolu­tion 2231,” Haley said, “and it is the most damning report yet. This re­port makes the case that Iran is ille­gally transferring weapons.”

Saudi Colonel Turki bin Saleh al- Maliki, official spokesman for the Saudi-led Arab coalition forces in Yemen, said during a December 20 news conference: “The Houthi- Iranian militias targeted the Saudi kingdom with 83 ballistic missiles,” adding that the Arab coalition had destroyed the rebels’ ballistic mis­sile launch pads.

To pre-empt additional Houthi provocations, Saudi border troops were monitoring the kingdom’s bor­der crossing with Yemen.

US President Donald Trump, Brit­ish Prime Minister Theresa May and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among the many world leaders who condemned the Houthi missile attack.

During a phone call December 20, Trump and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud “discussed the importance of engaging the United Nations to hold Iran accountable for its repeated violations of inter­national law,” a White House state­ment said. They were also said to have agreed on the necessity of re­viving the political process towards ending the war.

Tehran has denied involvement with the Houthis but boastful state­ments from Iranian officials indicat­ed otherwise.

At a mid-December conference in Tehran, Iran’s Islamic Revolution­ary Guard Corps (IRGC) command­er, Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he expected victory in Yemen soon.

“Over the past two years, we have been witnessing constant victories in Yemen as well as the defeat of the efforts of the Islamic Revolution en­emies,” Jafari said. “We need to con­solidate and expand such victories.”

Despite statements by Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi threat­ening Saudi Arabia with more mis­sile attacks and boasts that the range of his group’s rockets was expand­ing, the Saudi-led coalition opened the Yemeni port of Hudaydah for humanitarian aid and announced that commercial ships, including those carrying food and fuel, would be allowed to enter for 30 days.

Saudi officials said that since the missile attack on Riyadh on No­vember 4, the Arab coalition had delivered 435,067 tonnes of food supplies, 396 tonnes of medical sup­plies and 332,988 tonnes of miscel­laneous humanitarian aid.

The conflict in Yemen began when Shia Houthis and forces loyal to for­mer President Ali Abdullah Saleh overran Sana’a in September 2014 and seized most of the country. A Saudi-led Arab coalition, supported by the United States and the United Kingdom, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015.

Saleh was killed December 4 by the Houthis in an attack on his mo­torcade two days after he said that he was willing to “turn a new page” with the Saudi-led coalition.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

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