Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Foreign Minister Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir on Monday affirmed that the weekend missile attack on Riyadh by Iran-backed militias in Yemen was an Iranian “act of war”. In a wide-ranging interview with CNN Monday, the kingdom’s top diplomat said that the Iranians cannot interfere in the affairs of countries in the region and “expect to get a free pass. There is no doubt that missiles and suicide boats are coming from Iran [to Al Houthis]”.

He said Saudi Arabia “reserves the right to respond in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time”.

“We want to avoid war [with Iran] at all costs,” he said, but added that Iran continues to violate “every international law and every international norm”.

Iran is waging a war through its regional proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Al Houthis in Yemen, he suggested, adding that “we must say enough is enough” to Iran.

He denied that the coalition’s closure of Yemen’s air, sea and land borders amounted to a blockade. “The coalition has said it will take into account the supply of humanitarian aid to Yemen. But we want to ensure that Al Houthis and the Iranians cannot smuggle weapons and missile technology into Yemen. Our objective is to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Yemen,” but in a way that doesn’t allow the flow of Iranian arms into the country.

He commented on Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s statement which suggested that the resignation Saturday of Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri was made under Saudi pressure. Al Jubeir retorted: “Nonsense. We supported [Hariri’s] policies but Hezbollah put roadblocks in his way. And made the atmosphere in Lebanon tense. Hariri himself said that the existing conditions in Lebanon reminded him of the conditions that prevailed just prior to the assassination of his father [Rafik Hariri in 2005].”

He dismissed the notion that the measures Saudi Arabia has taken to combat corruption amounted to a “purge” and stressed that Saudi Arabia “has a zero-tolerance policy towards supporting terrorism and extremism. And we also have a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption, waste and mismanagement [of public funds]. There is a good reason that each individual was detained.”

Speaking about the message these measures may send to international investors, he said: “[These measures] should instill confidence” about fair competition and the fact that no one will be able to benefit from their influential positions.

On the Qatar crisis, Al Jubeir said it was “a very small issue”. He added: “This issue should not occupy people’s mind. It is a very small issue. The Qataris are in denial. The steps the Quartet has taken have forced Qatar to change its behaviour. [However] channels like Al Jazeera continue to provide a platform for extremism and this impacts our youth.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the ballistic missile attack on Riyadh makes Iran’s ballistic missiles issue an immediate priority. “We will not accept being under the threat of this programme,” he said on Twitter. He called for a unified Gulf position against the Iranian missile threat.

Earlier, the coalition launched a wave of air strikes on the rebel-held capital, Sana’a, in response to the ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.

The Saudis said they shot down the missile, with fragments landing in an uninhabited area north of the capital.

US President Donald Trump was quick to blame Iran on Sunday. “A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down,” Trump said, referring to the Patriot missile batteries Saudi Arabia had purchased from the US.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia released a list of 40 names of those responsible for planning, executing and supporting various terrorist activities by Al Houthis, to gather information on their whereabouts.

In September, the top US admiral in the Middle East said Iran continues to smuggle illicit weapons and technology into Yemen, stoking the civil strife there and enabling the rebels to fire missiles into Saudi Arabia that are more precise and far-reaching.