Saudi Arabia warns Iran is trying to turn Yemen into a 'missile base'

FILE PHOTO: Newly recruited Houthi fighters ride on the back or a truck during a parade before heading to the frontline to fight against government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

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Iran wants to turn Yemen into a "missile base" from which it can threaten Saudi Arabia, according to a Saudi general.

Saudi Gen. Ahmed Asiri claimed Saudi Arabia prevented an "Iranian plot" from threatening the country’s security and stability in an interview with Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya news Sunday.

He added that the Iranians planned to use Yemen’s Houthi rebels to implement their scheme, allowing Iran to deploy missiles and use Hezbollah suicide bombers against the country.

Saudi Arabia "did not need to wait for Yemen to become another missile base that threatens the security and safety of Saudi Arabia, as the Iranians planned to do, to turn Yemen into a military base, from which they could attack the kingdom," said Asiri, who serves as both the spokesman for Saudi operations in Yemen and as advisor to the defense minister.

Houthi rebels have targeted Saudi Arabia with 48 ballistic missiles since the country began joint military operations with other Arab states in Yemen in 2015. He said a total of 138 missiles have targeted either Saudi territory or its forces. It is believed that Iran, which has one of the largest military stockpiles in the Middle East, is supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with military equipment.

The Houthis (also known as Ansar Allah) are a rebel group from Yemen’s northern region. They have fought against the Yemeni government since 2004, including the current US and Saudi supported government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. Yemen is currently divided between Hadi’s government and the Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia has been criticized for killing civilians while fighting the Houthis. More than one-third of Saudi strikes in Yemen have hit civilian areas, according to a study by the Yemen Data Project released in September.

Asiri claimed that Saudi Arabia has shown restraint by avoiding a ground-based operation.

"It did not happen for several reasons: First, there would have been be a large deployment of ground forces which would have resulted in a large number of civilian and military casualties. One of the objectives of the coalition is to rid Yemeni civilians of the Houthi rebel presence in their daily lives," said Asiri. "There are around 100,000 Saudi forces stationed on the border that could have occupied Yemen in a few days, but we wanted to support legitimacy in Yemen with the least possible losses on both sides. We are like a technical team in a hostage situation."

Asiri said Saudi Arabia aims to support the Yemeni government and prevent Houthi incursions in Saudi territory. He claimed that the Saudi-led coalition has made progress in beating back the rebellion. However, the Yemeni capital of Sanaa is still under Houthi control, while several other cities are in contention.

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