Iran TerrorismIran issues tacit warning to Saudi Arabia over attacks...

Iran issues tacit warning to Saudi Arabia over attacks on rebels

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ImageThe Times: Iran warned Saudi Arabia yesterday not to become further entangled in supporting the Yemen Government’s drive to put down Shia Muslim rebels. The Times

James Hider, Middle East Correspondent

ImageIran warned Saudi Arabia yesterday not to become further entangled in supporting the Yemen Government’s drive to put down Shia Muslim rebels.

After a week of Saudi air raids and the imposition of a naval blockade by Riyadh to prevent weapons from reaching the insurgents, Iran issued comments that are certain to escalate tensions between the regional powers.

“Those who pour oil on the fire must know that they will not be spared from the smoke that billows,” said Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, in a clear warning to Saudi Arabia — which attacked Huthi rebels after they took control of a Saudi border town last week.

Iran is a majority Shia Muslim country and supports Shia groups across the region, particularly in Lebanon and Iraq, while Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim state.

The Shia rebels have accused Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemen President, of allowing the puritanical Saudi brand of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism, to gain increasing strength in predominantly Sunni Yemen — even though the President is a Shia. Saudi Arabia, clearly unsettled by the rebel incursions across the poorly defined border, insisted its air strikes would continue until the Huthi withdrew.

A Saudi border guard was killed in the initial fighting, when Huthi militia seized Jabal al-Dukhan last week. At least four more soldiers then died retaking the town from insurgents, who are reportedly armed with tanks and anti-aircraft guns.

Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the Saudi assistant defence minister, said the rebels must “withdraw dozens of kilometres” into Yemen before the Saudi assault would end. A rebel spokesman said Saudi forces were trying to set up a buffer zone, and shelling deep into Yemen to drive the Huthi back.

The Yemen Government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, has accused Iran of supporting the rebels, and said that it captured five Iranians last months trying to smuggle a boatload of weapons to them.

The rebels accuse Saudi Arabia of backing the Yemen Government, allowing government troops to use Saudi territory to outflank the insurgents, who have been driven against the Saudi border by a Yemen Government offensive.

Critics of Iran say its increasing efforts to support militant groups in the region reflect a desire to extend its influence and undermine its rivals — especially those allied to the US.

Last week, the Israel Navy said it intercepted a huge shipment of missiles and other armaments that it said were Iranian supplies to the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah.

Amid the growing tensions, the US has sought to shore up the Yemen military by signing an agreement this week to cooperate on military training and intelligence.

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