When a Scud missile lands near Makkah
The Iranian supported Houthi rebels fired ballistic missiles that landed close to the Holy City
The mountainous city of Taif is only 70 kilometers away from the holy city of Mekkah. This is why the missile attack targeting it two days ago is a new and dangerous development in the ongoing war in Yemen. It serves a reminder that the struggle in Yemen is regional and vindicates Saudi Arabia’s position that the war has been directed against it since the beginning.
The Houthi rebels who support Iran fired the ballistic missiles, probably in cooperation with former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh who possessed an arsenal of Russian arms.
It is important to understand the circumstances that led to the conflict in Yemen when the Saudi and the Arab Gulf coalition’s intervention was criticized. Some criticism indicated – rightly so – that controlling the war in this mountainous country with tribal disputes was going to be a difficult task.
They thought Saudi Arabia should ignore this after it tried for four years to find a peaceful solution. The process succeeded at the beginning but collapsed after the Houthis, who do not represent even 15 percent of Yemen’s population, violated the agreement and forcefully took over the capital Sanaa and decided to impose a government of their choice.
Even after the Houthis seized Sanaa some thought Saudi Arabia could have controlled the situation or simply ignored it and close its borders while leaving the Yemenis to their fate. However, the Houthis practically took over almost all of Yemen by force. Therefore, Iran, for the first time during this regional struggle, had a country affiliated with it south of Saudi Arabia.
The Scud missile vindicates Saudi Arabia’s position that Iran has been planning for a while to create an armed entity north of Yemen to threaten Saudi Arabia and that it has chosen the Houthis for this taskAbdulrahman al-Rashed
This happened around the same time when Iran sought to control Iraq, north of Saudi Arabia, and Syria. This is in addition to its attempts to stir unrest in Bahrain and the eastern region in Saudi Arabia. It’s not difficult to understand the Iranian project which surrounds Saudi Arabia from three sides.
After the Houthis seized power, Yemen became a military base for the Iranians. The Houthis, like the Hezbollah, became a militia for the Tehran regime. Even this geopolitical analysis may not be enough to push the Saudi neighbor and its allies to engage in war there.
However, the rebels inherited military equipment, such as an arsenal of Scud missiles, that is capable of threatening the heart of Saudi Arabia. At the beginning of last year, I wrote an article saying that the Houthis’ threat is not limited to threatening Saudi cities on the southern border but may reach major faraway cities like Jeddah.
The Russian Scud-D missiles have a range of more than 800 kilometers. In the beginning of the war, the Saudi Air Force shelled the base where these missiles were stored but it is believed that some of these missiles are stored in secret caches.
A base for Iran
This week’s Scud-D missile covered 700 kilometers falling in Taif, in the Mecca province, in the heart of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi defense system intercepted the missile based on its coordinates. This development, the first of its kind, confirms that the Yemeni war is not a domestic problem, like many believe, and shows that Yemen has become an Iranian military base directed against Saudi Arabia.
This is a reality and it is not a mere analysis based on a belief that disputes exist among different factions in Yemen. When Iran created Hezbollah in South Lebanon, its goal was never to support a Lebanese resistance that aims to liberate the South from Israeli occupation. Hezbollah was an advanced military force which the Tehran regime used to negotiate with the West and to threaten countries in the region.
Hezbollah is today engaged in the fighting in Syria and Iraq on behalf of the Iranians. It has previously trained Yemeni Houthis and named them “Ansar Allah” – a name that resembles Hezbollah. It also taught them how to repeat its empty slogans in Yemen, such as “death to America” and “death to Israel.”
Yemen has been an Iranian problem since the beginning of the crisis and this is why the reconciliation and the political solution appears to have been sabotaged. Saudi Arabia, the UN special envoy and western countries had agreed on two concepts for the solution: accepting the Houthis’ participation in political framework and supporting the democratic solution represented in letting the Yemeni people write their own constitution and choose whoever they want to govern them. However, Iran pushed the Houthis to alter this formula by taking over Amran, and then over Sanaa, and demanding a bigger share in power.
The missile attack vindicates Saudi Arabia’s position that Iran has been planning for a while to create an armed entity north of Yemen to threaten Saudi Arabia and that it has chosen the Houthis for this task.
It also shows that whether the solution is political or military, the struggle in Yemen cannot be separated from the regional struggle and the region cannot ignore the reasons behind the war Yemen.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 11, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed