Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes on Thursday targeting military installations in Yemen held by Shiite rebels who were taking over a key port city in the country’s south and had driven the embattled president to flee by sea, security officials said. Some of the strikes hit positions in the country’s capital, Sanaa.
The airstrikes, which had the support of nine other countries, drew a strong reaction from Iran which called the operation an “invasion” and a “dangerous step” that will worsen the crisis in the country.
The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.
A local newspaper reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units.
The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, were calling on their supporters to protest in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday afternoon, Yemen’s Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported.
On Wednesday President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close US ally, fled Yemen by sea as the rebels started taking over the southern port city of Aden where he had taken refuge.
Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced the military operation in a news conference in Washington. He said his government had consulted closely with the US and other allies but that the US military was not involved in the operations.
The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the US was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.
Other regional players were involved in the Saudi operation: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.