Saudi Arabia Says Missile Strike Could Be ‘Act of War’ by Iran

Updated on
  • Iran-backed Houthis fired missile at Riyadh airport Saturday
  • U.A.E., Bahrain ministers join Saudi criticism of Iran
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Gulf nations stepped up their criticism of Iran in support of Saudi Arabia, after the kingdom blamed its regional rival for an attempted missile attack on Riyadh’s international airport over the weekend.

Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the attack shows how tackling Iran’s ballistic missile program should be “an urgent priority.” “We refuse to be under the danger of this program,” he said on Twitter. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said Iran’s actions should be curbed and danger eliminated. Iran denied providing the Houthis with missiles to attack Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s Shiite rebels fired a missile at the airport in Riyadh on Saturday. It was intercepted by Saudi air defenses, though the explosion shook homes and could be heard in the capital of about 6.5 million people.

The missile attack has further raised tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, rivals for regional hegemony that have been fighting a proxy war in Syria and Yemen since 2015. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has accused the Islamic Republic of seeking to control the Muslim world.

“Iran’s role and its direct command of its Houthi proxy in this matter constitutes a clear act of aggression that targets neighboring countries, and threatens peace and security in the region and globally,” the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthis said in a statement on Monday. The attack could be considered “an act of war against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” it said.

Iran provided the Houthis with ballistic missiles, launchers, explosive-laden drones and sea mines, Turki al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi coalition, which is trying to restore the rule of an internationally-recognized government against Iran-backed Shiite rebels, said earlier on state television.

‘Smithereens’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was equally combative in his remarks on Monday.

Saudi Arabia “bombs Yemen to smithereens, killing thousands of innocents including babies, spreads cholera and famine, but of course blames Iran,” Zarif said on Twitter. The kingdom “is engaged in wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior and risky provocations. It blames Iran for the consequences,” he said.

Earlier, Iran denied arming the Houthis with missiles.

“We have no possibility to transfer missiles to Yemen,” Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Sunday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. “These are their own missiles with improved range.”

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program under both former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said its missiles were for defense purposes.

Civilian Casualties

The Houthis said the missile launch was in reaction to Saudi-led bombings in Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians in the course of the war, the Associated Press reported. While the Houthis had previously fired missiles across the border, this one seems to have ventured farthest into Saudi territory and was aimed at a vital installation.

The Saudi-led coalition said it would temporarily close all Yemeni land, sea and air crossings to all but aid and rescue teams. The Houthis warned they would attack coalition warships in retaliation.

The strike also comes at a time of shifting U.S. policies in the region, with President Trump broadly supportive of the Saudis and taking a hard line against Iran. Trump, who has called Iran a “rogue state,” told Saudi King Salman in a phone call on Saturday he would support the purchase of American military equipment to keep the kingdom safe, according to a readout from the White House.

In comments on Monday to business leaders in Japan, Trump praised the Saudi missile defenses. They “took the missile right out of the air. Blew it up,” he said.

— With assistance by Glen Carey, Ladane Nasseri, and Mohammed Hatem

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