US air force official says Yemeni missile fired at Saudis ‘connects the dots to Iran’
Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, though Tehran has denied it
Iran manufactured the ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels toward the Saudi capital and remnants of it bore “Iranian markings”, the top US Air Force official in the Middle East said on Friday, backing the kingdom’s earlier allegations.
The comments by Lieutenant General Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Force’s Central Command in Qatar, further internationalises the years-long conflict in Yemen – the Arab world’s poorest country.
Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them.
“There have been Iranian markings on those missiles,” Harrigian told journalists at a news conference in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Air Show. “To me, that connects the dots to Iran.”
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran.
Saudi Arabia says it shot down the missile November 4 near Riyadh’s international airport, the deepest yet to reach into the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry later said investigators examining the remains of the rocket found evidence proving “the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing them.”
It did not elaborate, though it also mentioned it found similar evidence after a July 22 missile launch. French President Emmanuel Macron similarly this week described the missile as “obviously” Iranian.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement on Tuesday that the July launch involved an Iranian Qiam-1, a liquid-fuelled, short-range Scud missile variant. Iran used a Qiam-1 in combat for the first time in June when it targeted Islamic State group militants in Syria over twin militant attacks in Tehran.
Harrigian declined to offer any specifics on what type of missile they believed it was. He also did not explain how Iran evaded the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition, which intensified after the missile targeting Riyadh.
“How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time,” the lieutenant general said. “What has been demonstrated and shown based on the findings of that missile is that it had Iranian markings on it. That in itself provides evidence of where it came from.”
The Houthis have described using Burkan-2 or “Volcano” Scud variants in their recent attacks, including the one November 4. Those finless missiles are reminiscent of the Qiam, wrote Jeremy Binnie of Jane’s Defence Weekly in a February analysis.
“The Burkan-2 is likely to heighten suspicions that Iran is helping Yemen’s rebel forces to develop their ballistic missile capabilities,” Binnie wrote.
Adding to that suspicion is the fact that Yemen’s missile forces previously never had experience in disassembling and rebuilding the weapons, said Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy who previously worked in Yemen.
It is “not a stretch to believe that Tehran is supporting the Houthi missile programme with technical advice and specialised components,” Knights wrote in an analysis Thursday. “After all, the Houthis have rapidly fielded three major new missile systems in less than two years while under wartime conditions and international blockade.”