US Air Force official: Iran behind attempted missile attack Saudi Arabia called 'act of war'

Iran manufactured the ballistic missile that rocketed toward an airport in Saudi Arabia's capital last week, a top U.S. Air Force official in the Middle East said Friday, backing up what the Kingdom said was an "act of war" on the part of Iran.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who oversees the Air Force's Central Command in Qatar, said remnants of the missile bore “Iranian markings."

"To me, that connects the dots to Iran,” he told journalists at a news conference in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Air Show.

Saudi Arabia long has accused Iran of giving weapons to the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, though Tehran has just as long denied supplying them. Saudi Arabia supports the Yemen government, and the clashes between pro-government forces and the Houthis have become somewhat of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, each of which have attempted to assert dominance throughout the region.

"To me, that connects the dots to Iran."

- Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigan

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran to Harrigan’s comments.

Harrigian declined to offer any specifics on what type of missile U.S. officials believed had been fired toward the international airport, nor did he show any images of the debris after it was shot down by Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4. He also didn't explain how Iran would have evaded the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition, which intensified after the missile targeted Riyadh.

"How they got it there is probably something that will continue to be investigated over time," Harrigan said. "What has been demonstrated and shown based on the findings of that missile is that it had Iranian markings on it. That in itself provides evidence of where it came from."

Saudi Arabia says it took down the missile near Riyadh's international airport, the deepest incursion yet by a missile into the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry later said investigators examining the remains of the rocket found evidence proving "the role of Iranian regime in manufacturing them." It did not elaborate, though it also mentioned it found similar evidence after a July 22 missile launch. French President Emmanuel Macron similarly this week described the missile as "obviously" Iranian.

The kingdom on Monday called the attempted attack an "act of war" by Iran and vowed to retaliate.

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The attempted missile strike was "a blatant act of military aggression by the Iranian regime and could rise to be considered as an act of war," the Saudi Press Agency said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia “reserves its right to respond to Iran in the appropriate time and manner, in accordance with international law and based on the right of self-defense," the statement continued.

U.S.Air Forces Central Commander in Qatar, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, addresses a joint press conference with Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Stephen Wilson, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Harrigian said that the ballistic missile fired by Yemeni rebels that targeted the Saudi capital was from Iran and bore "Iranian markings." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

U.S. Air Forces Central Commander in Qatar, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian addresses members of the press in Dubai.  (AP)

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi responded by calling Saudi Arabia's claims "false, irresponsible, destructive and provocative," according to the Iranian news agency Tasnim.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement Tuesday the previous July launch that was referenced by Saudi Arabia involved an Iranian Qiam-1 -- a liquid-fueled, short-range Scud missile variant. Iran used a Qiam-1 in combat for the first time in June when it targeted ISIS militants in Syria.

The Houthis have described using Burkan-2 or "Volcano" Scud variants in their recent attacks, including the one Nov. 4. Those finless missiles are reminiscent of the Qiam, wrote Jeremy Binnie of Jane's Defense Weekly in a February analysis.

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Michael Knights, a fellow at The Washington Institute For Near East Policy who previously worked in Yemen, wrote in an analysis Thursday it is "not a stretch to believe that Tehran is supporting the Houthi missile program with technical advice and specialized components."

"After all, the Houthis have rapidly fielded three major new missile systems in less than two years while under wartime conditions and international blockade,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.