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Saudi Air Defenses Shoot Down Missile Fired by Yemen's Houthis

  • Edward Yeranian

Houthi militants take part in a parade held to mark 1000 days of the Saudi-led military intervention in the Yemeni conflict, in Sana'a, Yemen, Dec. 19, 2017.

Saudi air defenses have shot down a ballistic missile fired at Riyadh by Yemen's Houthi militia group. Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of supplying ballistic missile technology to the Houthis.

Amateur video showed a salvo of the fourth-generation Saudi Patriot missiles being launched at the approaching ballistic missile, before blowing it up in a cloud of smoke over the skies of the capital, Riyadh. Debris from another missile fired from Yemen landed close to Riyadh's international airport in November.

The Houthis' Al-Masirah TV said the missile was meant to strike a gathering of top Saudi leaders at the al-Yamama royal palace in Riyadh. Saudi King Salman and his ministers were meeting Monday to discuss the kingdom's finances.

FILE - Buildings are seen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 18, 2017.
FILE - Buildings are seen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 18, 2017.

Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the Patriots, capable of monitoring 50 threats at once, could detect the approaching missiles from a distance of 80 kilometers.

Regional analyst Mustapha al-A'ani of the Gulf Research Center told al-Arabiya the Houthis have "neither the expertise to put the missile stages together, nor the expertise to fire them." He alleged that 250 Iranian experts are helping the Houthis with their missile program.

Arab media have repeatedly accused Iran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis from its port of Bandar Abbas, across the Persian Gulf. Mustapha al A'ani accused the Houthis of using Iranian-built "Zilzal 3," and "Qiam 1," missiles to attack Saudi Arabia.

American University of Beirut professor Hilal Khashan tells VOA he questions whether the ballistic missiles being used in the recent attacks were from Iran.

"The Iranians support the Houthis to the best of their ability, but the Houthis were able to seize the military arsenal of [former Yemeni President] Ali Abdallah Saleh, especially after the fall of Sanaa and the failure of his [recent] coup. They seized huge amounts of weapons that include SCUD missiles."

Khashan said he thinks it "likely that the Iranians may have upgraded the missiles," and that he believes the Houthis could have "up to 500 SCUD missiles in their arsenal." The Houthis have fired close to 100 ballistic missiles at Saudi territory during the past year, according to al-Arabiya.

Iran supports the rebels, but denies supplying them with weapons. Iran has also criticized Saudi Arabia for its military campaign in Yemen, and what it called "regional bullying."

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In New York, the U.N. Security Council heard its semi-annual briefing on the implementation of the resolution endorsing the 2015 deal to prevent Iran building a nuclear bomb. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley used the session to raise the issue of alleged Iranian arms transfers to Yemen – which if verified, would violate both an international arms embargo against the Houthis and one against Iran.

“While we don’t yet have sufficient insight into this particular attack, it bears all the hallmarks of previous attacks using Iranian-provided weapons,” Haley told council members. “Iran’s destabilizing behavior is only growing; it will continue to grow unless we raise the cost of defying the international community,” she added.

The U.S. envoy said there are several options the council could pursue to pressure Iran. They include strengthening provisions in the resolution endorsing the nuclear deal; adopting a new resolution making clear that Iran is prohibited from all ballistic missile activities; and the possibility of sanctioning Iran for violating

Last week at a military base in Washington, D.C. Haley showed reporters what she said was debris from a short-range missile of Iranian origin recently fired by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia.

VOA's U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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