Saudi-Iranian tensions escalating as Houthi missile attack deemed ‘act of war’

November 12, 2017
Meeting challenges. A Saudi man walks past posters depicting Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh. (Reuters)

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.