Yemen’s Houthis Vow to Step Up Missile Attacks on Saudi Arabia

Yemen's Houthi militia, which is supported by Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, has vowed to step up its missile and rocket attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of Arab and Gulf states trying to push the Houthis out of the Yemeni capital Sana'a.

Houthi militiamen chanted slogans against the United States and Israel earlier this month as they fired ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, at the 29th annual Arab summit in Dhahran, Saudi King Salman accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with missiles.

He called the Houthis "terrorists" backed by Iran. He welcomes the U.N. condemnation of the Houthis for firing 119 missiles at Saudi cities, including Mecca.

Former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr told VOA he was not sure if the missiles came from Iran, but argued the Houthis are using them because the Saudi-led coalition has inflicted serious damage with its airstrikes on Yemen.

He said the Saudis have never treated Yemen as an independent country, but as a protectorate. He insisted the Saudis are conducting a savage war in Yemen and justifying it by claiming Iran is supporting and selling arms to the Houthis.

University of Paris Professor Khattar Abou Diab told VOA the Houthis recently vowed to fire a missile a day into Saudi Arabia.

He said many countries criticize the Saudi-led coalition for its airstrikes on Yemen and the resulting humanitarian crisis, but few complain about the Houthis taking children hostage or firing missiles at Saudi Arabia. He says the Houthis also pose a regional threat for attacking vessels in world shipping lanes.

Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi argues the Houthis have significant support in Yemen and believes Riyadh should seek a pluralistic regime.

"They [the Houtis] are a force to be reckoned with. They are popular in Yemen. The problem is that they want to control [all of] Yemen, at least the Yemen republic before 1992, not the south ... and this is not a working recipe. They cannot control all of Yemen. They cannot bring Yemen back to the time of the monarchy. Yemen is a republic."

Khashoggi thinks the international community needs to put pressure on Iran.

"The international community should pressure Iran to get the Houthis to agree to some peaceful understanding in Yemen. But at the same time, Saudi Arabia also needs to believe truly in democracy for Yemen. I think the Saudis are also reluctant, as much as the Iranians, about democracy. Each country wants to impose its blueprint in Yemen," Khashoggi said.

But Bani Sadr thinks it might be difficult to get Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to change his behavior, because his regime relies on outside conflicts to survive.

He said Khamenei recently insisted Iran was living the best moments of its history, because it is not just a regional, but a world power. This, Bani Sadr stressed, is how the regime profits from war to impose itself domestically.

Khattar Abou Diab thinks Iran is playing a dangerous game that could back-fire.

He said Saudi Arabia is the target of Houthi missiles, but it also has missiles that can reach Tehran and could set off a tit-for-tat war, igniting a very dangerous "regional" conflict.

Khashoggi doubts "there will be outright war", because "both sides know the high costs of a direct confrontation."

But Bani Sadr is less certain. "Very often we think threats are merely verbal," he said, "and then suddenly war breaks out, as we saw in 1980, when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran."

Source: Voice of America