Iranian media has reported on a Houthi rebel attack on Saudi Arabia overnight. Tasnim and Press TV have coverage of the “large-scale operation” that struck “deep into Saudi territory.” This is important because it hints at Iranian involvement and support. Iran has increased support for the Houthis in recent years, including sending arms and know-how, as well as bringing Houthi leader posters to Iraq and other areas. Tehran is keen on knitting the Houthis into its “axis of resistance” and use them to threaten adversaries such as Saudi Arabia, the US and even Israel. Last year there were concerns about threats from Yemen against the Jewish state.
Iran closely follows the battles in Yemen. In the past, Iran has blamed the Houthis for Iranian attacks carried out on the kingdom. For instance the massive drone and cruise missile attack in September 2019 was carried out by Iran yet was blamed initially on the Houthis. A May attack likely carried out from Iraq by Iranian proxies was also blamed on the Houthis. This is routine way of operating for Iran. It wants a cut-out to make it seem like a group between it and the adversary was responsible – then it can pretend to be innocent. It does this in Iraq, using fake names for new “rogue” groups to carry out rocket attacks on the US. Iran likes layers of deception.
Iran’s Press TV has a long report on the large scale attack that unfolded in the early hours of June 23. This was “retaliation” it says for Saudi Arabia’s “bloody military campaign.” Whose retaliation – Iran’s or the Houthis? The report makes it appear that in fact Iran has a role here. We know that Iran has sent technicians to Yemen and that former IRGC Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani took interest in upping the capabilities of the Houthi rebels. In 2015 the rebels almost took Aden until Saudi Arabia intervened. Since then the rebels have held their own and have launched increasing waves of drone and missile attacks deep into the kingdom. The US since 2016 has compiled evidence of Iran’s role in Yemen. It has displayed Iranian materials linked to the attacks. The UN and other countries are increasingly aware off Iran’s role.
Al-Masirah TV in Yemen, linked to the Houthis, says that the attack was carried out on Tuesday, saying that it lasted for hours. The US embassy in Riyadh became aware of the attack and put out an unprecedented warning, which points to some intelligence about this unfolding attack. Press TV says that blasts could be heard in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia says it intercepted ballistic missiles. The Saudi coalition spokesman has said the attack was a deliberate and systematic operation.
What actually happened is unclear, however, because it was a sophisticated attack that included missiles and “eight bomb-laden drones.” There were at least three ballistic missiles. More interceptions were reported in the dawn hours, so it may be more than that. Press TV says the missiles were fired from Yemen’s Sa’adah province against Najran and Jizan in Saudi Arabia. How did the Iranians know this? Likely due to close work with the Houthis.
The question now is how Saudi Arabia and its allies will respond. While the US and others have backed Saudi Arabia, there are concerns that it is bogged down in Yemen and that its allies like the UAE also want a way out. This coalition must also deal with concerns about Libya and other regional problems.