Houthi drones target Saudi Arabia amid allegations of Qatari backing

Riyadh claimed it shot down the drones, some of the two dozen that have targeted the Kingdom and allies in Yemen in the last month.

Missiles and drone aircrafts are seen on display at an exhibition at an unidentified location in Yemen in this undated handout photo released by the Houthi Media Office (photo credit: HOUTHI MEDIA OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Missiles and drone aircrafts are seen on display at an exhibition at an unidentified location in Yemen in this undated handout photo released by the Houthi Media Office
Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted Saudi Arabia with several drones in what Iranian media called a “large-scale attack” that was aimed at “Saudi military positions and sensitive targets.”
It comes days after The National in the United Arab Emirates reported that “Qatar paid for Houthi drones used in attacks on Saudi Arabia.” Riyadh claimed it shot down the drones, some of the two dozen that have targeted the kingdom and allies in Yemen in the last month.
The recent drone attack was reported late on September 6 by Al-Mayadeen, a website generally sympathetic to the Syrian regime, Hezbollah and pro-Iran groups. Eight drones from Yemen attacked Abha Airport in southern Saudi Arabia, the report said. The UAVs achieved a “precise” hit at the airport, a second report at the same website said.
The Iranian-backed Houthis used several UAVs against “critical targets at Abha International Airport,” Houthi spokesman Yahya Sari was quoted as saying by Iran’s Tasnim News Agency. Riyadh had been “defeated” by Ansarullah, the Arabic name of the Houthi rebel group, the report said. However, it acknowledged that Saudi Arabia claimed to have downed the drones.
Tasnim, which is close to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, published a second story on the attack, showcasing other Saudi airports. The image appeared to be a message aimed at threatening widespread attacks. Iran attacked Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility September 2019 with drones and cruise missiles. Initially blamed on the Houthis, the attack by Iran showcased Tehran’s abilities.
A MORE complex picture emerges because of a wider regional struggle. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon was part of a “fortress of resistance” tour, Al-Mayadeen reported. The same site highlighted US support for Saudi Arabia’s opening of its airspace to Israeli flights to Abu Dhabi in light of the UAE-Israel peace deal. Al-Mayadeen called the deal a “betrayal” and linked it to the conflict in Yemen.
“The Emirati-Zionist step in normalization has proven the accusation that [they are involved in] aggression waged against Yemen,” the report said. Israel has “aspirations to control the Red Sea,” it said, adding that the Houthis in Sana’a are confronting “colonial forces loyal to the Zionist entity.”
On August 28, a Houthi drone attack targeted Najran, a three-hour drive from Abha, about 250 km. away. Najran is near the Yemen border, and Abha is several hundred kilometers away, but both have been targeted by drones.
Qatar was linked to funding of drone attacks from Yemen, Austria’s Die Presse reported on September 3. Why Qatar? It has been at odds with Saudi Arabia for years, and friction escalated after Riyadh broke relations in 2017.
Turkey sent troops to Qatar, and Doha has hosted Hamas and Iranian senior officials. Qatar funds the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Qatari media often slams the UAE and Saudi Arabia for the conflict in Yemen. In July, after previous allegations that Qatar backed the Houthis, the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the allegations, according to Middle East Monitor.
Technology the Houthis use for drones comes from Iran, the Austrian report said. This has been known for years and was documented by intercepted shipment of drone parts, as well as gyroscopes used in Houthi drones. This links Iranian technical expertise to the Houthi drone program, which goes back years.
These kamikaze drone “glide bombs” are a danger to the region, not just to Riyadh, Die Presse reported. “Oil-rich Bahrain and the international shipping routes” could be threatened, the report said. The Houthis allegedly have acquired the Iranian-designed Shahed 129, which Arab news reports in January indicate was already in their hands.
THERE ARE many questions regarding who funds and plans the drone attacks or whether it is just the Houthis using Iranian technical expertise. Were the recent attacks timed to try to disrupt the UAE-Israel deal or send a message to Riyadh and others in the region?
The Saudi-led coalition has said it intercepts Houthi drones. But a coalition statement on September 7 on Al Ain News online appeared to warn the Houthis against more of these indiscriminate attacks, suggesting escalation could result.
The Houthis claim the attacks are precise and aimed at critical infrastructure. According to Al-Arabiya, 23 drones were shot down in August, and the intensity of these attacks is rising. It also linked them to components brought from Iran. The US Navy has interdicted at least three shipments from Yemen over the last year. A total of 358 Iranian-made missiles were stopped, the US said in February.
The report at The National has additional information about recent claims about Qatar financing. It mentions “Jason G,” an intelligence analyst who “said he was determined to raise the alarm over the potential threat such as a failed drone strike on Abha airport on Sunday [August 30].” According to the report, he said: “I was actively working the last few weeks to determine the risks/threats of drone strikes – and the best payoff is when casualties are avoided.”
The meeting of Hamas and Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon this past weekend, along with attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen – as well as the way in which Turkey, which backs Qatar, has opposed Israeli normalization with the UAE and hosted Hamas – point to region-wide links of several conflicts.
However, rumors that Saudi Arabia would also be normalizing relations with Israel received a cold shoulder on Sunday. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in a call with US President Donald Trump, said such a policy could only come with recognition or progress on a Palestinian state.
Because of these sensitive discussions, as well as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain opening their airspace to Israeli flights, each Houthi drone attack and interception of the drones has wider regional ramifications. This is why media from Turkey, Iran and Lebanon spread rumors in an attempt to undermine the UAE/Israel deal.