One person was killed and seven others were wounded in an attack by Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels on an airport in Saudi Arabia Sunday evening, the Saudi military said, as the U.S. secretary of state was on his way to the country for talks on Iran.
Regional tensions have flared in recent days. The U.S. abruptly called off military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American surveillance drone on Thursday.
The Trump administration has combined a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. A new set of U.S. sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced Monday.
The Sunday attack by the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, targeted the Saudi airport in Abha. Saudi Arabia has been at war with the Houthis in Yemen for more than four years.
A Houthi spokesman, Yahia al-Sarie, said earlier Sunday the rebels had launched drones targeting Saudi airports in the southern cities of Abha and Jizan.
Saudi Arabia’s military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki did not say what type of weapon was used in Sunday’s attack, which took place shortly after 9 p.m. local time. The Saudi Press Agency reported that a Syrian resident of Saudi Arabia had been killed, but did not identify the nationalities of those wounded.
It was the second attack in less than two weeks on Abha’s airport. The Houthis launched a cruise missile at the airport on June 12, wounding 26 passengers inside. The Iranian-backed Houthis also claimed responsibility for bomb-laden drone strikes that targeted a key Saudi oil pipeline in recent weeks.
Also Sunday, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was traveling to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks on Iran. His meetings in Saudi Arabia will be in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, about 315 miles (505 kilometers) north of where the Saudi airport was struck.
Speaking to reporters before flying out, he said he’ll be talking to the two U.S. allies “about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned” and how to build a global coalition to “push back against the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.”
At the same time, Pompeo reiterated that the U.S. was prepared to negotiate with Iran to ease tensions.
“We’re prepared to negotiate with no preconditions. They know precisely how to find us,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was in Jerusalem on Sunday, where he said Iran should not “mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness.” President Donald Trump has said he backed away from planned strikes after learning 150 people would be killed.
Bolton’s tough message seemed to be aimed not only at Tehran, but also at reassuring key U.S. allies that the White House remains committed to maintaining pressure on Iran. Israel, along with Arab countries in the Gulf, considers Iran to be their greatest threat, and Trump’s last-minute about face appears to have raised questions about U.S. willingness to use force against the Islamic Republic.
On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States’ “interventionist military presence” for fanning the flames. He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, emphasized that the U.S. reserved the right to attack at a later point.
“No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said on Friday our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go,” Bolton said alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a vocal critic of Iran over the years.
Netanyahu, a longtime opponent of the nuclear deal, has remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the current crisis between the U.S. and Iran. The Israeli leader appears to be wary of being seen as pushing the U.S. into a new Middle Eastern military conflict.
Standing alongside Bolton, Netanyahu said Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region had increased as a result of the nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for set limits on its uranium enrichment levels.
Netanyahu made no mention of the called-off airstrike and said he was “pleased” by U.S. plans for increased economic pressure. But some Israeli commentators said that Trump’s about-face was a cause for concern.
Iran’s foreign minister said Bolton was trying to force the U.S. into a conflict with Iran. Javad Zarif tweeted that the presidential adviser was “moments away from trapping” Trump into a “war,” before the U.S. president called off the strikes against Iran.
America’s European allies have expressed deep concern about the volatile standoff. A top British diplomat was in Tehran on Sunday to discuss preventing any “escalation and miscalculation,” according to the UK Foreign Office.
The two-day visit of Andrew Murrison, the UK’s minister of state for the Middle East, was aimed at “open, frank and constructive engagement” with his Iranian counterparts, according to the Foreign Office. This included reiterating the UK’s assessment that Iran almost certainly bears responsibility for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which Iran denies.
Murrison added that Iran must continue to meet its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Iran has threatened to break the limits set on its uranium stockpile by the deal in the coming days, if European powers don’t find a way to circumvent U.S. sanctions.
According to IRNA, Iranian officials told Murrision they hoped that European signatories to the nuclear deal will pursue “normal relations and trade” despite the sanctions.
Also Sunday, a top Iranian military commander warned that any conflict with Iran would have uncontrollable consequences across the region and endanger the lives of U.S. forces. Maj. Gen. Gholamali Rashid’s remarks, published by the semi-official Fars news agency, were made while addressing Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps during a field visit to a command center for Iranian radars and missile systems.
Throughout the recent crisis, Trump has wavered between bellicose language and actions toward Iran and a more accommodating tone. His administration is aiming to cripple Iran’s economy and force policy changes by re-imposing sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports.
He’s also dangled the prospect of eventually becoming an unlikely “best friend” of America’s longtime Middle Eastern adversary.
The regional tensions have prompted major international carriers, including Saudi Arabia’s state airline Saudia, to divert flight routes away from the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Friday barred U.S.-registered aircraft from operating over parts of the Persian Gulf.