The Houthi rebels in Yemen have fired a ballistic missile into the Saudi mainland, Iranian and Arab media outlets reported today. The spokesman for the Saudi-led Coalition Forces supporting the Yemeni government said the Saudi Royal Air Defence Forces this morning intercepted the missile reportedly launched from Houthi-held Sa’ada Governorate of Yemen toward the Saudi city of Khamis Mushait. Col. Turki al-Maliki said the Coalition held Iran responsible for continuing Houthi missile attacks into the kingdom. He emphasized that the Houthi missiles indiscriminately target civilian population centers and accused Iran of continuing to aid the Yemeni rebels in defiance of the UN Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231. The spokesman further called on the international community to take concrete steps to stop Iran’s “continuing smuggling and transferring of ballistic missiles and weapons to terrorist groups and non-state actors.”

Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, and Lebanese Hezbollah outlet al-Manar, however, claimed that the Houthi missile was aimed at the Malek Faisal military base in Khamis Mushait region in Asir Province.

Comment: The frequency and range of Houthi missiles into Saudi Arabia has escalated tension between Riyadh and Tehran in recent months. On January 18, the Iran-backed Yemeni rebels launched another missile attack into the kingdom, targeting an air defense operations center in the border province of Najran, Iranian and Lebanese media outlets reported.  According to Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV, the Qahar M2 missile fired by Houthis inflicted severe damage to an air defense base located in the Khadhra crossing point in Najran. The Yemeni rebels also claimed that they had fired another missile at an airport in the nearby region of Jizan two days prior to that. But the Saudi Press Agency reported that the Saudi royal Air Defense Forces successfully shot down the Houthis’ ballistic missile intended to target civilian and populated areas in Jizan. 

The increasing Houthi missile attacks have also triggered angry reactions in Washington. When a Houthi ballistic missile targeted the international airport in Riyadh on November 4, both Saudi and American officials said they held Tehran and its allies responsible for the attack. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran’s ally Lebanese Hezbollah of smuggling missile parts into Yemen. According to the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said the “involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the Kingdom.”

In December, US permanent ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, presented “concrete evidence” of Iran’s weapons support to the Yemeni rebels and called for international action to punish Iran for it. She said the debris of the missile used to target the Saudi airport had Iranian marking.

Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, denied any Iranian involvement. But Reuters reported that a team of United Nations sanctions monitors had concluded that remnants of four ballistic missiles launched into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels this year, including residuals from the November 4 attack, appeared to have been designed and produced by Iran. “Design characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile,” the monitors said.

The US military and its allies have confiscated several Iranian arms shipments destined for Yemen in the past two years. Last year, the Australian government also released photographs that showed light anti-armor weapons seized near the Yemeni coast were manufactured in Iran. And another report published by the Conflict Armament Research, a UK-based organization that tracks and analyzes weapons shipments around the world, indicated an arms “pipeline” originating from Iran extended to Yemen and Somalia.

Iran denies providing arms to the Houthis. But a senior Iranian military official said in December that the Houthi rebels in Yemen are inspired by Iran’s Islamic Revolution and its founder’s thoughts and are fighting against the Saudi-led coalition under the instructions of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, former defense minister and current head of Iran’s Supreme National Defense University, made the remarks at a ceremony commemorating Iranian commanders and students killed in combat. Prior to that, Iran’s former ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi had admitted that Tehran “assisted the region’s oppressed people, including in Yemen against the Saudi invaders.” In an interview with a conservative Iranian newspaper, he warned that Iran’s national security would be compromised if Riyadh succeeded in Yemen.