Saudi Arabia’s air force has announced it intercepted a ballistic missile on Riyadh and two other missiles in the south of the country on Wednesday, according to state media reports shortly after the capital’s residents heard three loud explosions.
Almost at the same time, the Huthi rebels in Yemen claimed that they had launched several rockets against the Kingdom of the Desert and that among its objectives were the Ministry of Defense and facilities of Aramco (the Saudi oil company). Although there is no evidence that they have caused casualties or material damage, the escalation can only further muddy the already strained relations with Iran, whom the Saudi authorities hold responsible for arming the Huthi.
The accusation has been repeated by Colonel Turki al Maliki, spokesman of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to oust the Huthi from Sana and reinstate the internationally recognized government of Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi. Al Maliki has described as “Iranian” the missile intercepted on Riyadh.
It is the Yemeni rebels’ fourth attempt to reach the Saudi capital in the last five months. At the end of March, one Egyptian worker was killed and another wounded when the remains of another intercepted rocket landed on his home outside the city. He was the first mortal victim of this dangerous pulse.
The historical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia has worsened since the accession of King Salmán who, through his son and heir, Prince Mohamed Bin Salmán (MBS), has inaugurated a more active policy. Both countries are facing interposition in all regional conflicts from the war in Syria to Yemen, including Lebanon and Iraq. They have even broken diplomatic relations following the execution by Riyadh of a Shia cleric at the beginning of 2016 and the ensuing attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.
The new attempt to reach Riyadh and the two missiles launched against the border provinces of Jizan and Najran have not been the only Huthi attacks on Wednesday. In the morning, Al Masirah, the rebels’ television network, announced that a plant from Aramco in Jizan and Abha airport in the neighboring province of Asir had been bombed from two drones. However, Al Maliki said they had shot down both devices and the oil company said in a statement that its facilities were functioning normally.
The image Al Masirah used to illustrate both bombings is from a Qasef-1 drone, which the militia showed at a ceremony last year as being its own fabrication. However, Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a research group on weapons in conflict zones, claims to have evidence and other equipment used by the Huthi are made in Iran.
The Huthi, who took control of the Yemeni government at the end of 2014, did not have missile capability before the Saudi military intervention three years ago. Now they defend that the rockets are their answer to the bombings of the Arab coalition on the territory under their splint and that, according to the UN, have caused 10,000 dead and more than 54,000 wounded, unleashing the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”.