Saudi-Iranian tensions escalating as Houthi missile attack deemed ‘act of war’
London- Tensions dramatically escalated in the Arabian Peninsula, with Saudi Arabia accusing its arch-nemesis Iran of “direct military aggression.”
Saudi Arabia’s frustration with Iran was clearly conveyed in a phone conversation between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on November 7, in which the crown prince stated: “The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its affiliated Houthi militias with missiles is a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and could be considered an act of war against the kingdom,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The latest flare-up of tensions was triggered November 4 when a missile targeting King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh was launched from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. The missile, said by US officials to be of Iranian origin, was intercepted by the kingdom’s air defence system.
“There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” US Air Force Lieutenant-General Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of the US Air Forces Central Command in South-west Asia, said during a news conference in Dubai. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”
Empowered by missile capabilities they did not possess before Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2015, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels vowed more attacks on Saudi Arabia and extended the threat to the United Arab Emirates.
“All airports, ports, border crossings and areas of any importance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be a direct target of our weapons, which is a legitimate right,” the rebels’ political office said in a statement.
The developments left Lebanon seemingly caught in the crosshairs. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, allied with the Saudis, abruptly resigned November 4 during a visit to Riyadh, throwing the future of the fragile coalition government in Beirut into question. Hariri blamed Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, for creating discord in the region and cited fears for his life.
Confusion in Lebanese political circles led to claims that Hariri had been forced to resign and was being held against his will in Riyadh. That notion was discounted by Western officials who met with Hariri in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain advised their citizens to avoid travelling to Lebanon. This came as a Saudi national was reported missing and suspected of being kidnapped in Lebanon.
Since his ascension to the throne in 2015, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has adopted an assertive foreign policy that has seen Riyadh act against Iran’s alleged meddling in the region.
After Iran struck a nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — with world powers in 2015, Saudi Arabia geared its strategy towards countering Tehran’s attempts at building influence in Africa, Asia and Latin America through military agreements and economic deals.
The kingdom also introduced a series of ambitious domestic reforms, including a recent anti-corruption drive that resulted in the arrest of more than 200 individuals, including current and former ministers and members of the royal family. The crackdown was an unprecedented step in a country where influential figures were long considered outside the reach of the law.