Tensions in the Middle East have never been higher as one nation has gone dangerously close to risking an all-out war.
According to Fox News, the Saudi Arabian government responded to an attempted missile attack on Riyadh’s main airport over the weekend as an “act of war” by Iran, promising retaliation.
Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for firing the ballistic missile on Saturday, which traveled more than 500 miles before the Saudi Arabian military intercepted it. The official Saudi Press Agency said that from the debris assessment, the missile was discovered to be made in Iran and smuggled into Yemen, whose Houthi rebels have been fighting against Saudi-backed forces for several years.
In an official statement, the agency called the missile strike “a blatant act of military aggression by the Iranian regime and could rise to be considered as an act of war,” and that Saudi Arabia “reserves its right to respond to Iran in the appropriate time and manner, in accordance with international law and based on the right of self-defense.”
Although Saudi Arabian officials have claimed that this move was paramount to a declaration of war, Iranian officials have denied the allegation. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the claims were “false, irresponsible, destructive and provocative.”
The ongoing conflict in Yemen is seen by many analysts as akin to a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, alongside their competing ideologies of Sunni and Shia Islam.
The White House already condemned the missile attack by the Houthi rebels, saying that Iran “enabled” the attacks which threatened to undermine stability in the region.
“Houthi missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, enabled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threaten regional security and undermine UN efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict,” said a White House statement, according to Reuters.
Timothy Ash, one strategist at BlueBay asset management, said in a note that “the threat from Iran remains and is rising.” He added that “the U.S. needs to return to old, tried and tested relationships, with Israel and Saudi Arabia being cornerstone U.S. allies in the region.”
On the other hand, other experts feel that this saber-rattling from both sides won’t endanger the region at all. James Pothecary, a political analyst at global risk consultancy Allan & Associates felt that Saudi Arabia would not enter a war while the nation is undergoing a sweeping anti-corruption probe, purging many top officials in the government and military.
“Likewise Iran, reintegrating into aspects of the world economy, will make no such move. This kind of rhetorical saber-rattling occurs regularly — just this May, Iran’s defense minister threatened to leave ‘only Mecca and Medina’ untouched. A distinction must be made between rhetoric aimed at appeasing domestic populations and genuine intention to launch large scale military operations,” he said.
Was this an act of war?
This development has come just one day after dozens of princes, senior military officers, businessmen and top officials were arrested in one of the largest anti-corruption probes in Saudi Arabian history. Many have seen the arrests as a sign that 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who recently came into power in June, is attempting to consolidate power while trying to transform the nation’s image into a more pro-western ally with a more moderate, reformed version of Islam.
How this situation will pan out is yet to be seen, but it is hopeful that these tensions will remain strictly that and not escalate any further.