The Royal Saudi Air Defense has intercepted a ballistic missile Houthi rebels in Yemen have directed towards Riyadh earlier on Tuesday. According to the Saudi-led Arab Coalition for the support of the Legitimate Yemeni Government, the missile was intercepted by the defense systems located just south of Riyadh, causing the debris to scatter.
Colonel Turki Al-Malki, a coalition spokesperson, said that there were no injuries, damage or deaths caused by the attack. While speaking to Arab News, Al-Malki said that “This aggressive and outrageous act by the Houthi militias is further proof of the involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting and supplying this terrorist group with weapons, which constitutes a clear challenge to the violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231, posing a threat to the security of the Kingdom as well as the region and the wider world.”
This statement comes after a spokesman for the Houthi movement said on Twitter that the militia had targeted the Al-Yamama Palace, a royal residence in the Saudi capital, where, according to CNBC, a meeting of Saudi officials was underway. The attack is believed to have been a deliberate attempt to sabotage the news conference that was supposed to take place Tuesday afternoon. According to CNBC, Saudi Arabia was due to announce the country’s national budget at the conference, where a large number of senior ministers and government officials were to be present.
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According to BBC, witnesses in Riyadh posted dozens of images and videos showing a cloud of white smoke in the air, while many of the capital’s residents described hearing a loud, piercing blast.
The missile fired by the Houthi rebels was identified as the Volcano H-2, or Burkan 2-H, a short-range ballistic missile first launched in July 2017. The missile is the successor to the Volcano 1 missile, believed to be manufactured in Iran.
The Houthis’ al-Masirah TV confirmed that the missile targeted a meeting of Saudi leaders at King Salman’s residence, citing the Houthis’ Missile Forces as announcing the launch of a Burkan-2 missile on Tuesday afternoon “in response to the heinous crimes committed by the US-Saudi aggression against the people of Yemen.”
Tuesday’s attack marks the second time Houthi rebels have fired on Riyadh in the past two months, with another similar missile aimed at King Salman’s International Airport in Riyadh was also intercepted on November 4.
All evidence points to Iran
With Riyadh accusing Iran of supplying the Houthi rebels with the missile just minutes after the attack, the already strained relations in the Middle East have almost reached their breaking point.
According to BBC, a spokesperson for the official Saudi Press Agency said that the attack proved that Iran was continuing to support the Houthis in defiance of not just one, but two UN Security Council resolutions. He also added that the missiles Iran was supplying the rebels with were threatening both regional and international security.
However, an official UN investigation launched days after the first Houthi attack on Saudi soil back in July 2017 reached no firm conclusion on whether the missile came from an Iranian supplier. The investigation examined all the gathered physical evidence, including the remains of the missile, fired on November 4, and concluded only that the missile had a “common origin” to some Iranian missile designs.
The official investigation is a sharp contrast to claims made by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nation. As reported by Fox News, while speaking to reporters in a hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Colli in Washington, Haley said the missile parts bear markings showing they originate in Iran and that they have technical specifications that are specific to Iranian-manufactured weapons. “The evidence is undeniable,” she said. “The weapons might as well have had ‘Made in Iran’ stickers all over it.”
Haley continued her address saying that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S., and five other world powers had done nothing to moderate Iran’s conduct in the area, adding that it’s hard to find a conflict or a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it.
Just days before Tuesday’s attack, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued the fourth biannual report on the implementation of UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran. The report came amid calls by the U.S. to hold Iran’s government accountable for violating several UN Security Council resolutions by supplying weapons and ammunition to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
And while Tehran has denied any involvement with Tuesday’s attack, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed concerns over the 2015 nuclear deal collapsing in wake of recent attacks on U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. During a speech broadcast live on Iranian State TV, President Hassan said that “Those who hope that Trump will cause it to collapse are wrong.”
The 60-day window for Congress to decide whether to bring back sanctions on Iran lifted in 2016 had passed last week, giving Trump a month to decide if he wants to continue to wave energy sanctions on Iran. With Arab News reporting that Iran has said it will curb its nuclear program as long as the other signatories respect the agreement, but that it will “shred” it if Washington pulls out, what the future holds for the nuclear deal is becoming increasingly hard to predict.
Blood on Saudi Arabia’s hands, too
With the U.S.-Saudi coalition tightening its blockade of Yemeni borders even more in response to Tuesday’s attack, the UN has warned that further restrictions have the potential to trigger “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.” The restriction allows humanitarian aid to be delivered to ports and airports controlled by the Houthi rebels, commercial shipments of food and fuel are still blocked from entering. The ban has caused severe food and water shortages in Yemen, resulting in the largest humanitarian crisis the region has ever seen. According to the UN Security Council report from 2017, the conflict in Yemen has left more than 20 million people in the middle of the world’s largest food security emergency. The World Health Organization has also reported that the conflict has also lead to a cholera outbreak estimated to have killed more than 2000 people since April.
According to CNBC, a U.N. human rights spokesperson said during a security meeting in Geneva that air strikes led by the Saudi military coalition have killed at least 136 civilians in Yemen in the past 10 days. With the UN warning that the actual death tolls might be much higher than reported, and that a large number of casualties in Yemen were children, Saudi Arabia’s holier than thou approach to the conflict has become increasingly hard to empathize with.
With no clear winners in sight and the relations between the U.S. and its allies and Iran reaching their tipping point, it’s most likely that we will still continue to use the loss of life and human suffering as a measure of the progress made in the conflict.