Saudi air defenses thwart new Houthi attack on Riyadh

Update Col. Turki Al-Malki, spokesman of the Saudi-led Arab coalition for Yemen, giving a media briefing on the latest Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Col. Turki Al-Malki, spokesman of the Saudi-led Arab coalition for Yemen, giving a media briefing on the latest Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
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Updated 24 January 2021

Saudi air defenses thwart new Houthi attack on Riyadh

Saudi air defenses thwart new Houthi attack on Riyadh
  • Biden urged to retain terror designation for Houthi militia
  • The Houthis denied launching the strike

JEDDAH: Saudi air defenses thwarted an attack on Riyadh on Saturday by Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen.

The Arab-led coalition in Yemen said it had “intercepted and destroyed a hostile air target going toward Riyadh.”

Residents in the capital reported an explosion overhead at about 11 a.m. “I heard a loud sound and thought that something had fallen from the sky,” said one resident of Al-Sulaimaniyah. “The whole house was shaking.”

The Houthis denied launching the strike, but the militants have repeatedly targeted Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles since the Kingdom intervened on behalf of Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2015, and analysts had no doubt that they were responsible for the latest attack.

It came amid suggestions in Washington that the new Biden administration may revoke its predecessor’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization. That may not be simple, the Saudi political analyst Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“The Houthis will not meet the criteria,” he said. “Their actions throughout the years have worked against them and the new administration will not have a sound reason to revoke it.

“Multiple hurdles will face the Biden administration if they go down that path. The Houthis are a terrorist group with backing from Iran, a country that will continue to shuffle its cards to gain momentum and continue to destabilize the region.”

Western experts, Saudi Arabia and the US say Iran has supplied arms, including ballistic missiles to the Houthis. Iran denies that, though devices in the weapons link back to Tehran.

Meanwhile the Kingdom expects to have “excellent relations” with the Biden administration, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday.

“I am optimistic. Saudi Arabia has built solid, historical relations where it worked with different administrations. We will continue to do that as well with President Biden,” Prince Faisal said.

He said Riyadh would continue to consult with Washington over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are concerned about Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional meddling through militia it controls in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. They supported Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign on Tehran and welcomed his decision to quit the JCPOA  in 2018 and reimpose sanctions. Biden has said that if Tehran resumed compliance with the agreement, Washington would reciprocate.

The Gulf states say they should be included in any negotiations on a new deal to ensure it addresses Iran’s missile capabilities and malign activity.

“I believe basically the consultations will be around reaching a solid and strong agreement that takes into account Iran’s failure to comply … with strong monitoring factors to ensure the implementation of the agreement,” Prince Faisal said.