World

Saudi Arabia charges Iran with ‘act of war,’ raising threat of military clash

SANA, Yemen — Saudi Arabia charged Monday that Iran had committed “a blatant act of military aggression” by providing its Yemeni allies with a missile fired at the Saudi capital over the weekend, raising the threat of a direct military clash between the two regional heavyweights.

The accusations represent a new peak in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran at a time when they are already fighting proxy wars in Yemen and Syria, as well as battles for political power in Iraq and Lebanon.

The Saudi statement said the missile could be considered an “act of war” against the kingdom and triggered its right to self-defense under international law.

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It claimed that the rocket, which was fired from Yemen and intercepted en route to Riyadh, the capital, had originated in Iran.

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The Saudis said that “experts in military technology” had examined the debris of the missile, as well as one launched in July, and “confirmed the role of Iran’s regime in manufacturing these missiles and smuggling them to the Houthi militias in Yemen for the purpose of attacking the kingdom.”

US officials have previously accused Iran of arming its Yemeni allies, the Houthis. But Saudi Arabia’s claims could not be independently verified.

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.”

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“These missiles were produced by the Yemenis and their military industry,” Major General 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,” 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, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his post in protest of Iranian interference in Lebanon through its client, Hezbollah.

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 Hariri. Nasrallah urged Hariri to return to Beirut for power-sharing talks “if he is allowed to come back.”

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

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 UN 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 7 million are at risk of famine. Nearly 900,000 Yemenis have been sickened by cholera.