The Houthi rebels, Iran’s allies in Yemen, today launched another missile attack into Saudi Arabia, targeting an air defense operations center in the kingdom’s 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 ago. 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.   

Comment: The increase of Houthi missile attacks against military and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia has escalated tension between Riyadh and Tehran. After the Houthi missile attack on November 4 against the kingdom’s international airport in Riyadh, both Saudi and American officials said they hold 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 yesterday that a team of United Nations sanctions monitors has concluded that remnants of four ballistic missiles launched into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels this year, including residuals from the November 4 attack, appear 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 U.S. military and its allies have confiscated several Iranian arms shipments destined for Yemen in the past two years. In January, the Australian government also released photographs that showed light anti-armor weapons seized near the Yemeni coast were manufactured in Iran. And last November, another report published by the Conflict Armament Research, a U.K.-based organization that tracks and analyzes weapons shipments around the world, indicated an arms “pipeline” originating from Iran extended to Yemen and Somalia. Last year, Iran’s former ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi 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.