Dubai/Riyadh: Saudi Arabia said it intercepted seven ballistic missiles fired at Riyadh and other cities by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the biggest such barrage since the kingdom went to war against them in March 2015.
The missiles were intercepted late Sunday over the northeastern part of the capital and the cities of Najran, Jazan and Khamis Mushait, the official Saudi Press Agency said. Fragments killed one Egyptian national and injured two others in Riyadh, it said, citing the civil defence spokesman, Mohamed al-Humadi.
The Houthi-affiliated Saba news agency said the rebels targeted King Khaled International airport in Riyadh, Abha airport in Aseer and Najran’s airport. Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said in a televised speech that the group’s missile force is growing and that it enters the fourth year of the war with a “developed rocket system that cannot be intercepted by the US defence systems."
While Iran has rejected Saudi accusations that it supplied the projectiles for previous rebel missile attacks, Sunday’s barrage could bolster Riyadh’s demands to rein in the Islamic Republic, its arch-rival for regional influence. The assault came as the mastermind of the intervention, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, tours the US to promote his plan for modernizing and diversifying his country’s economy.
Fodder for MBS
“The Saudis have directly blamed the Iranians for previous missile launches, so I expect MbS will bring this up with his US counterparts," Graham Griffiths, senior analyst at Control Risks Middle East, said in reply to emailed questions. “It reinforces Saudi claims that measures against Iran need to go beyond a focus on the nuclear issue and address Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and support for armed groups throughout the region."
Washington has armed the kingdom in its intercession in the Yemen conflict, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe with thousands of civilian deaths, disease, hunger and displacement. The prince, who has met with Donald Trump and other US officials during his visit, designed the intervention in Yemen as part of a broader plan to assert Saudi Arabia’s power more aggressively. The Yemen war is one of several proxy conflicts between the kingdom and Iran across the region.
While the kingdom’s allies have been able to recover areas in southern Yemen from the Houthis, the rebels still control the capital Sana’a and territories in the north.
The Saudi stock market hardly moved on news of yet another missile attack. The Tadawul All Share Index fell as much as 0.6% in Riyadh before reversing to increase 0.1% as of 12:41 pm.
“Investors have priced in already this geopolitical risk, and I don’t think this will have a reversal in their decision to invest in Saudi Arabia," John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Centre, said in an email. Bloomberg