In the latest reminder that there are more flash points in the middle east than just the ongoing Syrian conflict, yesterday two missiles fired from rebel-held territory in Yemen landed near an American destroyer in the Red Sea, the U.S. Navy said Monday, the second such launch targeting ships in the crucial international waterway in recent days. AP reports that the missile launches Sunday came as a ballistic missile fired from Yemen apparently targeted a Saudi air base near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, the deepest strike yet into the kingdom by Shiite rebels and their allies.
Yemen’s Houtshi Shiite rebels known offered no reason for the launches, although a reasonable explanation is that the strike was in retaliation for a Saudi-led airstrike targeting a funeral in Yemen’s capital killed over 140 people and wounded 525 on Saturday.
In a statement, the Navy said no American sailors were injured and no damage was done to the USS Mason, an Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyer whose home port is Norfolk, Virginia. Lt. Ian McConnaughey, a spokesman for U.S. Navy Forces Central Command, said that it’s unclear if the USS Mason was specifically targeted, though the missiles were fired in its direction over an hour’s time period, starting at around 7 p.m.
U.S. destroyer USS Mason sails in the Suez canal
According to an American defense official, cited by the AP, the USS Mason used onboard defensive measures after the first missile was fired, but it wasn’t clear if that caused the missile to splash harmlessly into the sea. The destroyer at the time of the missile fire was north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which serves as a gateway for oil tankers headed to Europe through the Suez Canal, the official said.
However, as was the case with Saudi Arabia which initially denied it was responsible for the Yemen funeral airstrike which killed over 100, the Houthi-controlled SABA news agency of Yemen quoted an anonymous army official denying its forces fired on the USS Mason, without elaborating.
This is the second such incident to target a boat in the area: last week, an Emirati-leased Swift boat came under rocket fire near the same area and sustained serious damage. The United Arab Emirates described the vessel as carrying humanitarian aid and having a crew of civilians, while the Houthis called the boat a warship. U.S. Navy officials declined to immediately discuss what kind of rockets were used in the USS Mason incident.
Analysts with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy suggested in a report that the Houthis may have targeted the Emirati ship with an Iranian anti-shipping cruise missile, based on purported video of the attack.
Shiite power Iran has supported the Houthis, but denied supplying them with weapons. Any Iranian involvement could stoke tension between the Islamic Republic and the U.S., which already have had a series of tense naval encounters since the nuclear deal with world powers.
Meanwhile, suggesting that the Yemeni rebels are turning more aggressive and increasingly targeting Saudi assets, the kingdom’s state television aired a brief clip of what appeared to be a projectile that was said to have landed in Taif in the ballistic missile attack. The video shows the flash of an explosion, followed by images of emergency vehicles. Taif is home to Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Air Base, which hosts U.S. military personnel training the kingdom’s armed forces. The Saudi military said the missile fired late Saturday night was intercepted and caused no damage. The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees troops in the Middle East, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a modest attempt to respond to the Saudi bombing campaign that has killed thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians since last March, Houthis have fired a series of ballistic missiles in Saudi Arabia however most of those ballistic missiles have hit areas far closer to Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, like an attack Friday night that targeted the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait. In the Taif attack, however, the missile struck a target more than 520 kilometers (325 miles) from the border. Taif also is just outside of Mecca, which is home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that all of the world’s Muslims pray toward.
Previously, the Saudi military also said it earlier intercepted another ballistic missile fired Sunday on the Yemeni city of Marib.
On Sunday, thousands marched through the streets of Sanaa to protest the latest Saudi strike which targeted a funeral in the capital Sanaa, one of the deadliest single attacks in the impoverished Arab country’s relentless civil war.
After initially denying its airforce was responsible, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said its U.N. mission sent a letter on Sunday to the Security Council, expressing the kingdom’s “deep regret of the reported attack” on the funeral. Saudi officials have promised to investigate the bombing, although one doubts such a “self-evaluation” will lead to any change in the Saudi offensive.
The Yemen war, which has been mostly ignore by the media, is largely overshadowed by the conflict against the Islamic State group elsewhere in the Middle East, though rights groups have mounted increased criticism of the Saudi-led airstrikes in recent months for killing civilians. The U.N. and rights groups estimate the conflict has killed at least 9,000 people and displaced nearly 3 million more. As Reuters reported earlier today, the US is increasingly concerned about legal blowback to its ongoing arms sales to Yemen as Saudis continue to bomb Yemen. However, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, it is unlikely that any amount of “seller’s remorse” will stop US arms shipments to the nation that has been among the most generous donors to the Clinton Foundation.