Several ballistic missiles fired from the direction of Yemen were allegedly intercepted by Saudi Arabia’s air defenses, as the US secretary of state travels the country talking up the “Iranian threat” and the might of US weapons.
The missiles are said to have been launched from the direction of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa and reportedly targeted an oil terminal near the city of Yanbu early on Friday morning local time, though few details about the attack have been confirmed.
“The Royal Saudi Air Defense intercepted ballistic missiles launched by the terrorist Iran-backed Houthi militia towards Saudi cities,” the kingdom said in a statement on Friday, adding: “The missiles were launched in a systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians, which is a flagrant defiance of the International Humanitarian Law.”
Videos of the alleged interception have emerged on social media.
— دودول طلا (@LievanTem) February 20, 2020
Since March 2015, Riyadh and a coalition of regional allies have waged an intense air war on Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, launched after the group took control of Sanaa and ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The Houthis have carried out several high-profile attacks on Saudi soil, largely striking economic targets. The largest came last September, in a series of drone and missile strikes on two Aramco facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, temporarily cutting Saudi petrol output in half. While the Houthis took responsibility for the attack, Riyadh and Washington both blamed Iran, insisting the rag-tag rebel group could not have carried out such a sophisticated operation.
A missile intercept by #Saudi forces in #Yanbu just two hours ago. Yanbu is located by the Red Sea and is the largest oil terminal on that coastline. Exports a couple of million barrels per day mostly via the Suez Canal for delivery to Europe and North America. #OOTT pic.twitter.com/vvheCAIWHC
— Sam (@Samir_Madani) February 20, 2020
“We’ve seen air defense systems all around the world have mixed success. Some of the finest in the world don’t always pick things up,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time, hoping to save face for Riyadh’s US-made air defenses, which failed to stop the attack.
On his most recent trip to the kingdom this week, Pompeo again served as a walking advertisement for Raytheon’s Patriot missile systems, with the State Department noting the diplomat’s “visit to Prince Sultan air base and a nearby US Patriot battery highlights the longstanding US-Saudi security relationship,” and proved Washington’s commitment to resist so-called “Iranian malign behavior” in the region.
The war with the Houthis remains at a stalemate after nearly five years of fighting, with Saudi Arabia failing to restore Hadi to power and intermittent negotiations between the warring parties making little progress. The conflict has helped to produce one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in Yemen, with millions now relying on international aid for basic necessities.