Saudis Intercept Another Ballistic Missile From Yemen, Days After US Accused Iran of Supplying Them

By Patrick Goodenough | December 20, 2017 | 4:22am EST
A Patriot ground-based missile defense system deployed in south-western Saudi Arabia. The Saudis on Tuesday shot down a ballistic missile fired from Yemen and heading for the capital, Riyadh. (Photo: Saudi Press Agency, File)

( – Days after the Trump administration presented what it said was evidence of Iran’s hand behind ballistic missile attacks targeting Saudi Arabia, the kingdom on Tuesday shot down another incoming projectile fired by Iranian-backed militias in Yemen.

The missile attack, which the Shi’ite Houthi militia said on social media was aimed at Yamama Palace – the seat of the Saudi government in Riyadh, prompted a torrent of condemnations from across the Arab world, directed at the Houthis but also at Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a fierce rivalry, played out especially in the civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In its southern neighbor Yemen, the Saudis are leading a coalition in a costly and controversial air campaign supporting the country’s internationally-recognized government in its fight against the Shi’ite militia.

A coalition spokesman, Col. Turki Al-Malki, said the Saudi military’s U.S.-supplied Patriot air defense system shot down the missile south of the capital, causing no casualties or damage.

“This hostile and indiscriminate act by the Iran-back Houthi armed group proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting Houthi armed group with qualitative capabilities” in defiance of U.N. resolutions,” the official Saudi Press Agency quoted al-Malki as saying.

He said firing ballistic missiles at residential areas violates international humanitarian law.

Al-Malki said the incident provided further evidence that Iranian missiles are being smuggled into Yemen for use by the Houthis, and called on the international community to take “serious and effective steps” to hold Iran accountable.

The nearest Houthi-held territory in Yemen is around 550 miles from Riyadh.

Condemnation Tuesday came from the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Arab states including Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.

Among the first to condemn the incident was Saudi Arabia’s key ally in the conflict with Iran, the United Arab Emirates, which said in a statement that “this cowardly attack draws attention to the dangerous and negative role played by Iran in supporting the coup militia, and its insistence on continuing its hostile practices by providing the Houthi terrorist group with ballistic missiles that threaten peace and security in the region.”

The Houthis last December claimed to have fired a missile towards a nuclear power plant in the UAE although the Emirati government denied that any missile had reached its territory.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday condemned the attack, saying the U.S. was “deeply disturbed by aggressive Houthi actions supported by Iran’s provision of advanced weapons, which threaten regional security and prolong the Yemen conflict.”

The United States calls on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to stop arming and enabling the Houthis’ violent actions against Yemen’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Early last month the Saudis intercepted a missile headed for its second-busiest international airport, also in Riyadh, and warned at the time that Iran’s alleged provision of the missiles to the Houthis could rise to “an act of war.

Last November the Saudis shot down another missile launched from Yemen, over the south-western portion of the kingdom.

The Trump administration has stepped up efforts to garner international support for tougher action against Iran for its ballistic missile and other activities in the region.

Last Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley held a press briefing and presentation of evidence provided by the Saudi government, including fragments of the missile shot down near the airport which Haley said bore Iran’s “fingerprints.”

Haley noted that the intercepted missile had been heading for an international civilian airport “through which tens of thousands of passengers travel each day.”

“Just imagine if this missile had been launched at Dulles Airport or JFK, or the airports in Paris, London, or Berlin,” she said. “That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what Iran is actively supporting.”


The regime in Tehran has hit back – with sarcasm.

“I didn’t know that the woman who represents the United States at the U.N. is an international or missile specialist,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Velayati told at a press conference on Sunday that Haley merely displayed something and blamed the Iranians, adding that she does not have scientific knowledge.

He denied that Iran has given missiles “to Yemen” and called Haley’s claims “baseless and ridiculous.”

(Haley in presenting the information cited the U.S. intelligence community, which she said “unequivocally” concluded that Iran provided the weapons.)

Denials also came from Mohsen Rezai, the secretary of the Expediency Council, a body that advises the supreme leader.

He called Haley’s accusations “false and baseless,” designed to divert attention away from the controversy over Jerusalem.

(Velayati and Rezai are both wanted by Argentina for alleged involvement in the deadliest terrorist attack in that country’s history.)

Iran also lodged an official protest with the embassy of Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in the absence of U.S.-Iran diplomatic ties.

“In protest against irresponsible statements by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran was summoned to the foreign ministry, where Iran’s official protest was expressed to him regarding the ungrounded accusations by Nikki Haley,” said ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi.

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