Saudi Arabia ups the ante on Iran-backed Houthis

“The continuation of the Iranian regime’s aggression and reckless escalation, whether directly or through its militias, will result in grave consequences," said Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman speaks during a public event in Riyadh. (AFP)
Unbreakable resolve. Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman speaks during a public event in Riyadh. (AFP)

DUBAI - An attack by Iran-backed Houthis on Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport further fuelled regional divisions and jeopardised Yemen’s fragile peace process.

A missile was fired June 12 into the arrival hall of the airport in south-western Saudi Arabia, causing dozens of injuries. Riyadh blamed Iran for the attack and vowed to respond with “unwavering resolve.”

“Their targeting of a civilian airport exposes to the world the recklessness of Iran’s escalation and the danger it poses to regional security and stability,” wrote Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman on Twitter.

The day after the attack, the Saudi-led Arab coalition carried out several strikes on Sana’a. Sources in the Yemeni capital said there were raids on three sites. Residents said the strikes targeted Houthi military camps west and north of the city.

The Arab coalition fighting the Houthis confirmed the strikes and said military assets of the Iran-backed militia on the outskirts of Sana’a had been destroyed. The operation targeted “foreign experts from terrorist organisations working with the Houthis,” the coalition said without identifying the targets’ nationality or saying whether they had been hit.

The Houthis launched a second attack against Abha International Airport and the city of Khamis Mushait June 14, using drones that were reportedly intercepted by the Saudis. The Arab coalition responded with an air strike against military positions, including air-defence systems, in Sana’a Saudi state television said. 

For Riyadh, which since 2015 has led a campaign in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, the Abha and Khamis Mushait attacks were clear messages from Tehran that Iran was prepared to escalate tensions that analysts warn could spark a direct confrontation between Iran and the United States, a key Saudi ally.

“The targeting of the Abha International Airport is a new military escalation,” said Saudi political researcher Ali Arishi. “(The) Houthis’ use of a cruise missile is also a dangerous precedent and new evidence of Iran’s support for the Yemeni militia by providing sophisticated weapons in violation of UN resolutions.”

Arishi said that, by targeting civilian infrastructure, the Houthis exposed their “recklessness… (in) carrying out Tehran’s orders,” which could lead them to “take the blame and (bear) alone the harsh and painful response that could follow.

“This means, in fact, that the Houthis do not have their own calculations. They are purely an Iranian tool.”

Riyadh said “appropriate measures” would be taken to confront the Houthis, indicating a possible new stage in the Yemeni conflict in which the coalition would focus on Houthi targets in Sana’a.

“Appropriate measures will be taken to confront and deter these terrorist militias,” said Prince Khalid. “We will stand against all those that aim to inflict harm on our security and interests, and we will continue to adhere to all international laws and norms to protect regional security and stability.”

“The continuation of the Iranian regime’s aggression and reckless escalation, whether directly or through its militias, will result in grave consequences,” he warned. “The international community must carry out its responsibility to avoid this outcome.”

Violence in Yemen has escalated in recent weeks, throwing a ceasefire agreement between the two sides into question. The Saudi-led coalition tightened its blockade of a major seaport and the airport in Sana’a, which is controlled by the Houthis.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the Arab coalition had “intensified” air raids on the Houthis in north-western Yemen.

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