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Saudi Arabia Charges Iran With ‘Act of War,’ Raising Threat of Military Clash

Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States and the United Arab Emirates, have enforced a sea and air blockade around Yemen since the outbreak of the current war there, so it was also unclear how Iran could have provided large weapons like ballistic missiles.

The top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran called the accusation “baseless.”

“These missiles were produced by the Yemenis and their military industry,” the commander, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, told the semiofficial news agency Tasnim.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, accused Saudi Arabia of “wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations,” in a statement on Twitter. Saudi Arabia “bombs Yemen to smithereens, killing 1000s of innocents including babies, spreads cholera and famine, but of course blames Iran,” Mr. Zarif said.

The Saudi claim was the second time in three days that the kingdom and its allies have accused Iran of trying to destabilize the region. On Saturday, hours before the missile was intercepted, the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, resigned his post in protest of Iranian interference in Lebanon through its client, Hezbollah.

Mr. Hariri tendered his resignation via a televised statement from Saudi Arabia and has not yet returned to Beirut, leading to the widespread assumption in Lebanon that he was pressured to resign by the Saudis, his political patrons.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said over the weekend that the Saudis had all but kidnapped Mr. Hariri. Mr. Nasrallah urged Mr. Hariri to return to Beirut for power-sharing talks “if he is allowed to come back.”

“It was definitely a Saudi decision that was imposed on him,” Mr. Nasrallah said. “It was not his will to step down.”

The accusations of Iranian interference in Yemen and Lebanon came as the Saudi crown prince was further consolidating his power with a wave of internal arrests that began around midnight on Saturday and expanded on Monday, trapping 11 princes and dozens of others in a Ritz Carlton hotel now serving as a uniquely luxurious prison.

The arrests cemented the dominance of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 32, over military, foreign, internal security, economic and social affairs inside the kingdom. In the two and a half years since the coronation of his father, King Salman, 81, Prince Mohammed has sharply escalated a cold war with Iran, stepping up Saudi Arabia’s efforts to push back Iranian influence in the Syrian civil war, plunging the kingdom into a protracted military conflict against Iranian-allied forces in Yemen, and isolating neighboring Qatar in part for being too close to Iran.

His hawkish stance toward Iran and to Islamists in the region also appears to have formed the basis for a close bond with President Trump, who visited Riyadh this year and maintained a conspicuous silence over the weekend about Prince Mohammed’s campaign of extrajudicial arrests.

The connection between the arrests in Saudi Arabia and the accusations against Iran was unclear, raising questions on Monday about whether the crown prince was emboldened to take on Iran by his success at checking his internal rivals, or whether he had hastened to check potential domestic critics in order to fortify his hand for a regional confrontation.

Photo

The site of an airstrike in Sana, Yemen, on Sunday. The Saudi-led coalition struck Houthi positions after a ballistic missile was intercepted near Riyadh. Credit Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Joseph Kechichian, a scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh who is close to the royal family, said the moves represented the convergence of two long-term agendas for Prince Mohammed.

“Inside he has been able to put his men into positions of influence and he has pushed aside his rivals,” Mr. Kechichian said. “And ever since President Trump’s visit to Riyadh there has been a very consistent policy with the essential coordination of the United States, and Iran is in the bull’s-eye.”

“In the past, accommodation was the name of the game, and today confrontation is the name of the game,” he said.

Saudi Arabia also said on Monday that it would “temporarily” close Yemen’s land, sea and air ports of entry in response to the missile firing, in order to tighten inspections and stop any weapons shipments. It pledged to provide for “the continuation of the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies and crews.”

However, the United Nations said that two aid flights scheduled for Monday had not been allowed to depart for Yemen.

“We’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored,” Farhan Haq, a United Nations spokesman, said at a daily briefing. “We underscored to all parties the need for regular humanitarian access.”

The United Nations considers Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, one of the world’s biggest humanitarian emergencies. Roughly 17 million people — 60 percent of the population — need food assistance, and seven million are at risk of famine. Nearly 900,000 Yemenis have been sickened by cholera.

Saudi Arabia accompanied its accusations against Iran with the announcement that it would pay bounties of up to $ 30 million for information leading to the capture of 40 Houthi leaders in Yemen.

“We fear nothing,” one leader on the list, Mohammad Ali al-Houthi, said in a defiant speech on Monday in the Yemeni capital, Sana.

He called the sweep of arrests ordered by Prince Mohammed “a coup leading to the throne” and invited any dissident Saudis to take refuge in Yemen. “We tell the citizens and princes in Saudi Arabia that the Yemeni people are opening their arms to you. None will endure injustice.”

Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Defense Ministry said over the weekend that its forces had targeted Riyadh’s airport with a long-range missile. Immediately after the firing, the Saudi-led coalition hit Sana with the heaviest barrage of airstrikes in more than a year.

With the support of Iran, the Houthis overthrew the internationally recognized government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in early 2015, and they have controlled much of the country since.

While the Houthis have long had loose ties to Iran and have received some support, there has never been proof that they were proxies under the direct command of Tehran, as the Saudis assert, analysts say.

The Saudi claim about Iran’s responsibility for the missile attack was difficult to evaluate in part because of the long and complicated history of illicit weapons shipments to Yemen.

South Yemeni forces acquired Soviet missiles during their civil war with the North before it ended in 1994, and the subsequent national government of Yemen, whose institutions are now under the control of the Houthi faction, had said as long ago as 2002 that it had bought a shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea.

American State Department cables published by WikiLeaks indicate that Yemen had resumed buying North Korean missiles as recently as 2009. But the Houthi alliance with Iran makes it impossible to rule out the possibility that Tehran provided or procured the missiles, even if they were manufactured in North Korea.

Analysts at IHS Jane’s say that it would be difficult for Iran to ship whole missiles to Yemen, but that the missiles could have been acquired from North Korea before the current conflict started.

Riyadh has been attacked twice before with missiles from Yemen, in February and March. The Saudi border area, including military bases in the southern city of Jizan, has also been targeted several times.

Source: NYT > World

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