Saudi Arabia Blames Iran for Attacks from Yemen

On November 4, Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh. Saudi forces said they intercepted the missile but the Houthis hailed the launch as a success. A Houthi spokesman told Al Jazeera that the Burkan 2-H, a type of Scud missile, traveled more than 800 kilometers to its target. It was the first time the Houthis had attacked the Saudi capital. On November 7, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir told CNN that the kingdom considered the attack to be an act of war by Iran. “We reserve the right to respond in the appropriate manner in the appropriate time,” he said. "It was an Iranian missile, launched by Hezbollah, from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen," he claimed. The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. released a document detailing alleged Iranian support for the Houthis.

The White House issued a statement in support of the kingdom.“We condemn the Iranian regime's activities and stand with Saudi Arabia and all our Gulf partners against the Iranian regime's aggression and blatant violations of international law,” read a statement. On November 10, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command in Qatar, pointed to Iran as the likely source of the missile and others. “There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” he said at a news conference in Dubai. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”

Iran, however, denied involvement. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif countered that Saudi Arabia has brought attacks on itself by its behavior.

On December 14, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, presented what she referred to as "undeniable" evidence of Iran’s transfer of arms to Yemen's Houthi rebels. “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,” she told reporters, standing in front of the missile allegedly fired by Houthis into Saudi Arabia on November 4. Haley claimed several other recovered pieces of Iranian military equipment demonstrated “a pattern of behavior in which Iran sows conflict and extremism in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions.” 

Saudi Arabia intercepted another ballistic missile over southern Riyadh on December 19. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, which was targeting the royal Yamama Palace in the Saudi capital. “As long as you continue to target Sanaa we will strike Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” Houthi rebel leader Abdul Malik al Houthi said. The Saudi led coalition claimed the missile proved "continued involvement of Iran in supporting the Houthis." 

The Houthis are a Zaydi Shiite movement that has been fighting Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004. Iran is widely accused of backing the group, which took over the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September 2014. In 2015, Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention along with several regional states in support of the ousted government. The intervention has been widely criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations because of heavy civilian casualties. More than 8,000 people have been killed and 46,000 injured. Some 21 million people, about three quarters of the population, needed aid by fall 2017. The country also faces history’s worst cholera outbreak, which will likely affect 1 million people by the end of 2017.

A Houthi spokesman threatened further attacks. "The capital cities of countries that continually shell us, targeting innocent civilians, will not be spared from our missiles," the spokesman said. The following are excerpted remarks by Saudi and Iranian officials on the Houthi attacks.


Saudi Arabia

Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir

Jubeir: With regards to the missile that landed, that was launched on Saudi territory, it was an Iranian missile, launched by Hezbollah, from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen. The missile is very similar to a missile that was launched in July at the town of Yanbu. It was manufactured in Iran, it was disassembled and smuggled into parts into Yemen. It was assembled in Yemen by operatives from the Revolutionary Guards and from Hezbollah. And then it was launched against Saudi Arabia. This is what happened. We see this as an act of war. Iran can not lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps vis-à-vis Iran.

Under article 51 of the U.N. charter, the Iranians cannot sit there and interfere in the affairs of the countries of the region whether in Lebanon, whether in Yemen, whether in Syria, whether in Iraq, whether in Bahrain, and expect to get a free pass.

Question (CNN): You are calling this an act of war, not a potential act of war, but an act of war. Correct?

Jubeir: This is a very, very hostile act. This is not the first time that missiles have been lobbed at Saudi Arabia, Iranian missiles, by Iran’s proxies. Who are the Houthis and what are Hezbollah? Subsidies of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Question: What evidence do you have?

Jubeir: We have the missile. The aluminum came from Iran. The guidance systems are from Iran. The cables have Iranian letters on them. The suicide boats that the Houthis use in Yemen are Iranian, and the computers have Iranian letters on the keyboards. The headquarters of the coalition to support legitimate government in Yemen, yesterday, had a press briefing where they put out all this evidence. There is no doubt that these missiles and these suicide boats came from Iran.

Question: By calling this an act of war, what is Saudi Arabia’s intention towards Iran?

Jubeir: I’m saying the Iranians committed an aggression against Saudi Arabia where an Iranian missile was fired at Saudi Arabia more than once by Iran’s proxies. What do you call this? And so, the Iranians have violated the U.N. charter. The Iranians have violated international law by targeting and allowing their proxies to target civilians in Saudi Arabia. And we have said that we reserve the right to respond in the appropriate manner in the appropriate time against this hostile aggression by Iran.

Question: There has now been a closure of air, road and sea access into Yemen, which is to all intents a blockade. This will only exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian situation. How do you mitigate that?

Jubeir: The coalition has said that they will take into account the issue of humanitarian supplies to the Yemeni people. Our objective is to facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance into Yemen, but we want to make sure that the Houthis and the Iranians cannot use the port of Hudayda or other ports in Yemen in order to smuggle missile technology, missiles that are disassembled and reassembled in Yemen, weapons that harm the Yemeni people and that harm us. So the coalition is looking at mechanism that will make the inspections regime in Yemen more efficient while at the same time increasing the capacity to bring in humanitarian supplies into Yemen.

Question: So you are saying those humanitarian suppliers will still get access, the NGOs, I mean today, will be getting access –

Jubeir: What I’m saying is that our objective is to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, but do it in such a way that Iran and its militias and proxies cannot use that access in order to smuggle weapons and technologies that can be reassembled into missiles in Yemen that will then be used against us and against the Yemeni people.

Question: The wider story here, Foreign Minister, is the kingdom’s very muscular and very visible approach to Iran at present. With these latest allegations of interference in Yemen, the quartet’s isolating of Qatar because of its relations with the Islamic State, a crisis which has now at an impasse, these allegations that Saad Hariri was forced to step down – what is the end game here with regards to Iran? Is it regime change? Is it war?

Jubeir: We want to avoid war at all costs. The objective is Iran has to conduct itself as a proper nation. It has to respect international law. It has to respect international norms. It has to respect the principle of noninterference in the affairs of other countries. It has to respect the principle of good neighborliness. Since the Khomeini revolution, what has Iran done? It attacked more than a dozen embassies inside Iran. It assassinated diplomats in a number of countries. It conducted terrorist operations in Europe, South America, in the Middle East, and the list goes on and on and on. And we are saying enough is enough.

—Nov. 6, 2017, in an interview with CNN


Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Iran’s supplying Houthi rebels with rockets is considered “direct military aggression.”

The supply of rockets could “constitute an act of war against the Kingdom.”

—Nov. 7, 2017, during a phone call with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson



Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif


President Hassan Rouhani

"Throughout history, Iranian and Saudi Arabian nations have had a friendly, brotherly relationship with each other.”

"Provided that Saudi Arabia is exercising animosity towards the Iranian nation, why is it showing hostility towards the Yemeni people and regularly bombarding them?"

"What reaction can the Yemeni people show against this much bombardment? Are they suggesting that they must not use their weapons? You stop the bombardment and see for yourself the positive response of the Yemeni people.”

"Why are you showing hostility towards the people of Syria and Iraq? Why are you strengthening ISIS and left the peoples of the region with them? Why are you interfering with Lebanon's internal affairs and governance? There is no case in history that a country forces another one's authority to resign only to interfere with their internal affairs. This is an unprecedented event in history. Where are you going in this way?"

"You are aware of the Islamic Republic of Iran's power and position; those bigger than you have not been able to do anything against the Iranian nation. The United States and its followers mobilized all their might and facilities against the Iranian nation but they were not successful.”

"We wish development and advancement for Yemen, Iraq, Syria and even Saudi Arabia and everyone must know that there is no way other than brotherhood, friendship and helping each other and you are wrong if you think that Iran is not your friend and the United States and the Zionist Regime are. Such an idea is a strategic mistake and a miscalculation.”

"Our path in the region is to establish and strengthen stability, and we want geographical boundaries not to change. Nations must decide for themselves and bombing and aggression must stop.”

"Iran is accused of interfering in the region, while it is helping Iraq and Syria to fight terrorism on their own request and we are proud that we were able to stop ISIS from reaching its goals.”

"Western powers sought to disrupt the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but they were stuck in it and the world's public opinion did not accompany them, so they want to create disagreements and discord among the nations of the region.”

"To us, Shiite and Sunni and all ethnic groups are brothers and together. And I hope the new rulers of Saudi Arabia stop hostility towards the nations of the region and choose the path of friendship. They must know that they will not be harmed by respecting others and they must be aware that the intention of Iran in the region is nothing but stabilization and security.”

—Nov. 8, 2017, during a session session of the Council of Ministers


Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi

“The Saudis, who have not been able to reach their sinister goals in their long military aggression (against Yemen), would put the failed coalition under further pressure by launching a clumsy psychological warfare operation and leveling completely false and baseless accusations.”

—Nov. 6, 2017, in a statement


United States

White House Statement on Iranian-Supported Missile Attacks Against Saudi Arabia

The United States welcomes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's statement exposing the Iranian regime’s support for Houthi militias, including the supply of illegal arms such as ballistic missiles. We condemn the Iranian regime's activities and stand with Saudi Arabia and all our Gulf partners against the Iranian regime's aggression and blatant violations of international law. These missile systems were not present in Yemen before the conflict, and we call upon the United Nations to conduct a thorough examination of evidence that the Iranian regime is perpetuating the war in Yemen to advance its regional ambitions. The United States calls on all nations to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its repeated violations of UN Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231, which ban arms transfers to the Houthis and prohibit Iran from exporting all arms and related materiel and specifically ballistic missile-related items.

Houthi missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, enabled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threaten regional security and undermine UN efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict. The United States seeks a negotiated settlement to the conflict and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people.

The United States will continue working with other like-minded partners to respond to these attacks and expose the Iranian regime's destabilizing activities in the region.

—Nov. 8, 2017, in a statement


Some of the information in this article was originally published on November 7, 2017.