Saudis ‘intercept missiles fired from Yemen’ as Pompeo tours kingdom with ‘Iranian threat’

Several ballistic missiles fired from the direction of Yemen were allegedly intercepted by Saudi Arabia’s air defenses, as the top American diplomat travels the country talking up an “Iranian threat” and the might of US weapons.

The missiles are said to have been launched from the direction of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and reportedly targeted an oil terminal near the city of Yanbu early on Friday morning, local time, though few details about the attack have been confirmed.

“The Royal Saudi Air Defense intercepted ballistic missiles launched by the terrorist Iran-backed Houthi militia towards Saudi cities,” the kingdom said in a statement on Friday, adding “The missiles were launched in a systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians, which is a flagrant defiance of the International Humanitarian Law.”

Since March 2015, Riyadh and a coalition of regional allies have waged an intense air war on Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, launched after the group took control of Sanaa and ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Houthis have carried out several high-profile attacks on Saudi soil, largely striking economic targets. The largest came last September, in a series of drone and missile strikes on two Aramco facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, temporarily cutting Saudi petrol output in half. While the Houthis took responsibility for the attack, Riyadh and Washington both pinned blame on Iran, insisting the rag-tag rebel group could not have carried out such a sophisticated operation.

“We’ve seen air defense systems all around the world have mixed success. Some of the finest in the world don’t always pick things up,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured after the strikes, hoping to save face for Riyadh’s US-made air defenses, which failed to stop the attack.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepares to shake hands with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Irqah Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 20, 2020 ©  Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / pool via Reuters

On his most recent trip to the kingdom this week, Pomepo again served as a walking advertisement for Raytheon’s Patriot missile, with the State Department noting the diplomat’s “visit to Prince Sultan air base and a nearby US Patriot battery highlights the longstanding US-Saudi security relationship,” and proved Washington’s commitment to resist so-called “Iranian malign behavior” in the region.

The war with the Houthis remains at a stalemate after nearly five years of fighting, with Saudi Arabia failing to restore Hadi to power and intermittent negotiations between the warring parties seemingly making little progress. The conflict has helped to produce one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in Yemen, with millions now relying on international aid for basic necessities.