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Pentagon Backs Saudis In Dispute With Iran Over Huthi Missile Launch


Huthi fighters in Yemen chant slogans as they take part in a gathering in the capital, Sanaa, in July.

The Pentagon threw its support behind Saudi Arabia after it accused Iran of engaging in an "act of war" by allegedly supplying Yemen's Shi'ite Huthi rebels with a ballistic missile used in an intercepted missile attack on Riyadh.

Pentagon spokesman Marine Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway late on November 6 praised Saudi Arabia for "exposing" what he said was Iran's “malign role in Yemen and its provision of dangerous missile systems to Huthi militants”

He said the United States supports Riyadh in its regional struggle with Iran, which has denied arming the Huthis and has suggested that the ballistic missile was locally produced.

“We continue to maintain strong defense ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and work together on common security priorities, to include combat operations against violent extremist organizations, and neutralizing Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East region,” Rankine-Galloway said.

The Pentagon statement came after Saudi Arabia and Iran exchanged accusations over the thwarted missile attack on November 4, which Tehran said was in retaliation for "war crimes" against Huthi rebels by a Saudi-led coalition that has provided air support for Yemen's government in the country's civil war.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on November 6 said Saudi Arabia was blaming Tehran for the consequences of its own "wars of aggression."

The coalition closed off land, sea, and air access to Yemen on November 6 after the ballistic missile targeted Riyadh. It said the temporary closings would “take into account” the work of humanitarian groups.

Reuters reported, however, that the United Nations was not allowed to send two scheduled humanitarian flights into the country on November 6.

The UN has repeatedly criticized the coalition for blocking aid access and has estimated that 7 million people in Yemen are on the brink of famine.

The Huthi-run news agency Saba warned that the blockade would have "catastrophic consequences," Reuters reported.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir tweeted that Riyadh reserves the right to respond to what he called Iran's "hostile actions."

"Iranian interventions in the region are detrimental to the security of neighboring countries and affect international peace and security. We will not allow any infringement on our national security," he said.

The Saudi-led coalition earlier said that "Iran's role and its direct command of its Huthi proxy in this matter constitutes a clear act of aggression that targets neighboring countries, and threatens peace and security in the region and globally.

“Therefore, the coalition's command considers this a blatant act of military aggression by the Iranian regime and could rise to be considered as an act of war against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the statement said.

The Saudis said they shot down the missile before it hit its target.

Iran countered the Saudi accusations by saying rebels fired the missile in retaliation for Saudi "war crimes" and that the accusations by the coalition were "unjust, irresponsible, destructive, and provocative."

An Iranian Foreign Ministry statement quoted its spokesman Bahram Ghassemi as saying on November 6 that the missile attack was "an independent action in response to this aggression" and that Iran had nothing to do with it.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan have supplied assets to the alliance led by Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally.

The coalition was formed in 2015 to fight the Huthis after the rebels overran Yemen's capital, Sanaa, the previous year and forced the Saudi-backed government to flee into exile.

U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Iran of supporting terror groups in the Middle East.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Express.co.uk
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