Saudi’s royal family narrowly averted disaster as the royal palace in Riyadh was within seconds of being hit by a ballistic missile on Dec. 19.
The missile, fired by Iranian-backed Houthi extremists in Yemen, was intercepted before it reached the palace, which is used by King Salman for weekly cabinet meetings.
A Houthi spokesperson confirmed the launch of a Volcano H-2 ballistic missile on Twitter and that the royal palace was the intended target.
It is the second ballistic missile fired at Saudi Arabia’s capital in just over a month.
Hezbollah media releases video of missile launched by Houthi forces at Saudi royal palace in Riyadh earlier today. pic.twitter.com/mq8awI3U48
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) December 19, 2017
On Nov. 5, a ballistic missile fired from Yemen at the King Khalid airport was intercepted by an American-made Patriot missile defense system.
The timing of the missile launches is suspicious given domestic affairs in Saudi Arabia.
While it comes on the backdrop of a years-long conflict between Saudi Arabia and Houthi fighters, the attack on the royal family comes in the midst of a major anti-corruption crackdown.
On Nov. 4, just a day before the first ballistic missile launch, Saudi Arabian authorities arrested 11 princes and 38 other top figures in the kingdom. In total over 500 people were arrested by an anti-corruption committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Those arrested include some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the country.
Among those arrested is billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who, according to Forbes, is the 50th richest person in the world.
Alwaleed has been linked to the spreading of radical Islamic ideology both in Saudi Arabia as well as in the United States. Alwaleed has significant business interests in the United States, including stakes in Citigroup and Twitter.
The prince had fostered ties with then-President Barack Obama, as well as with the Bush family and the Clintons.
Trump voiced his support for the corruption crackdown on Twitter on Nov. 6.
“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing….” the president wrote on Twitter.
I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2017
Alwaleed’s father, Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, has a history of radical Islamic politics, and was previously suspected of attempting a communist coup in Saudi Arabia.
The missile launch also reveals the growing influence of Iran in the region and its role in supplying extremists in the region with advanced weapons.
“Its ballistic missiles and advanced weapons are turning up in more zones across the region,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Dec. 14.
Haley said that analysis of the missile fired on Nov. 5 showed that it was built in Iran.
“These are the recovered pieces of a missile fired by Houthi militants from Yemen into Saudi Arabia … unequivocally that these weapons were supplied by the Iranian regime, the evidence is undeniable,” Haley said while standing in front of the missile parts.
“The weapons might as well have had ‘Made in Iran’ stickers all over it,” Haley said.
Iran’s ballistic missile program is not covered by the nuclear agreement it reached with the Obama administration and other world powers in 2015.
This means that Iran can develop its advanced technology and missile program without repercussions on the nuclear deal.
“What we’re saying is everybody has tip-toed around Iran in fear of them getting out of the nuclear deal, and they are allowing missiles like this to be fired at innocent civilians,” Haley said.
Trump announced in October that his administration would renegotiate the deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If that does not work, Trump said he would terminate the deal completely and negotiate a new deal.
The existing nuclear deal puts Iran on track to have a nuclear weapon by 2026. At that point, critical restrictions on its enrichment of uranium will be phased out, and the regime will be allowed to operate thousands of advanced centrifuges. Experts believe that Iran could then develop a nuclear weapon within six months.