At a time when Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a contest for regional dominance, Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi militants have fired missiles at Saudi Arabia. The latest was fired at the capital, Riyadh, on December 19.

Despite sharp UN warnings that the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of Yemen could trigger the largest famine the world has seen for decades, the missile attacks give credence to Saudi coalition’s claim that easing the blockade would help the smuggling of weapons, including missiles from Iran, into Houthi-held Yemeni territory.

Granted, the blockade causes non-military shortages, but lifting it ensures the Houthi militants will get more missiles to fire at the population centers in the Gulf states, possibly killing civilians if missile-interception attempts fail.

Missile targets defended by Patriot batteries

Saudi-led coalition’s spokesperson said the latest missile was targeted at civilian and populated areas south of Riyadh, although the missile was intercepted by a US-made Patriot missile.

But a Houthi official said the missile was fired at a meeting of the Saudi leadership at the Al-Yamama Royal Palace in Riyadh to mark the 1,000 days the Yemen war has lasted.

The meeting was expected to be attended by Crown Prince Mohammed-bin-Salman and senior ministers to discuss the annual budget. Houthi leadership said that Saudi palaces, military, and oil facilities are within the range of the missiles from Yemen.

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This is the second missile attack by Houthi militants targeting Saudi Arabia’s capital since November 4. The Houthi targeted Riyadh’s King Khaled Airport last month with a missile that was also intercepted by Saudi Arabia.

On December 14, the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, presented concrete evidence of Iran’s involvement. She said the short-range ballistic missile was made by Iran and sent to Houthi militants, who fired it at Riyadh on November 4.

The Saudi coalition has been at war with the Houthi since March 2015, when Houthi militants forced the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile. The Saudi coalition started a military campaign against the Houthi militants in order to restore the Hadi government.

Border town civilians injured in missile attacks

Since then, Houthi have fired dozens of missiles into border towns inside Saudi Arabia, causing casualties among local residents. Houthi militants recently killed Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president, after Saleh broke his alliance with Houthi and expressed his readiness for a “new page” in relations with the Saudi coalition.

Houthi claimed earlier this month that they fired a missile at a nuclear plant under construction in the UAE, which is part of the Saudi coalition. The UAE, however, denied the claim.

After the Houthi militants fired the Burkan-2 missile at Riyadh’s airport on November 4, the coalition tightened its blockade on Yemeni territories held by Houthi in response to that attack, saying it wanted to halt the smuggling of weapons from Iran.

Following the missile attack December 19 Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs of the UAE, which is part of the Saudi coalition, tweeted that military action against the Houthi becomes clear with every Iranian missile fired by the militants against civilian targets.

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When the coalition tightened the blockade following November 4 missile attack, the coalition later eased its restrictions, allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered to Houthi-controlled ports and airports.

However, the latest missile attack on December 19 could compel the coalition to tighten the blockade again. After the attack, the coalition’s spokesperson accused the Houthi of using humanitarian entry points to import missiles from Iran.

Media outlets and European foreign ministers have blamed the Saudi coalition’s blockade for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. But these claims should be re-examined. Had Houthi militants not targeted Riyadh’s civilian airports and residential areas and the border areas there would have been no need for the coalition to tighten the blockade.

More importantly, had the Houthi not occupied the capital of an independent state (Sanaa in Yemen), there would have been no reason for the coalition to wage war to restore the internationally recognized government of President Hadi.

Bahauddin Foizee is a threat/risk intelligence analyst focusing on the assessment of investment, legal, security, political and geopolitical threat/risk. His articles on these areas as well as on social, environmental, financial and military affairs in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific and Middle East regions have been widely published.

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