Saudi Arabia's air defense Patriot missile systems were active at the coastal city of Yanbu in the early Friday morning hours after ballistic missiles were inbound, believed launched by Shia Houthi rebels out of Yemen.
Crucially, the Red Sea city of Yanbu is site of a large state-owned Saudi Aramco oil refinery, the likely intended target given the prior Sept.14 large scale attack on Aramco facilities which was also claimed by the Houthis.
Another video of the air defense launches. So far it seems all missiles were intercepted— CNW (@ConflictsW) February 20, 2020
Yanbu is nearly 600 miles from Yemen, meaning sophisticated missile systems were used - likely the Burkan 2 - which in the past Washington has accused Iran of supplying.
Spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, was cited in the Saudi Press Agency as saying the launch originated in Yemen's capital of Sanaa, but that Patriot anti-air missiles intercepted the rockets.
Al-Maliki furhter blamed the Houthi rebels for targeting "cities and civilians". Sanaa remains under control of the Houthis after years of civil war which has witnessed Saudi and US military intervention against them since 2015.
A missile intercept by #Saudi forces in #Yanbu just two hours ago. Yanbu is located by the Red Sea and is the largest oil terminal on that coastline. Exports a couple of million barrels per day mostly via the Suez Canal for delivery to Europe and North America. #OOTT pic.twitter.com/vvheCAIWHC— Sam (@Samir_Madani) February 20, 2020
“The Royal Saudi Air Defense intercepted ballistic missiles launched by the terrorist Iran-backed Houthi militia towards Saudi cities,” the kingdom said in the statement.
“The missiles were launched in a systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians, which is a flagrant defiance of the International Humanitarian Law.”
As Maleki confirms, missiles were launched from Sana'a towards Yanbu, they're 700 miles (1100km) away from each other,— علي العراقي (@AliAlIRAQ1990) February 21, 2020
So, MRBMs for sure. pic.twitter.com/gfl6yp54vY
Crucially, earlier in the day US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia where he met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss deterring Iran's regional ambitions.
Pompeo had reportedly just wrapped up his last meeting of the night with MbS when the attack happened.
The ballistic missiles fired tonight at Saudi, presumably from Yemen, came as Pompeo visits Riyadh. They were intercepted over Yanbu shortly after he wrapped up dinner with MBS. Missile defense was on the agenda. https://t.co/kggP611ubN— Liz Sly (@LizSly) February 21, 2020
No doubt, the US will take the timing of the launch to be a deliberate message and will likely ultimately point the finger at Tehran.