Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe landed yesterday in Tehran on a mission to ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran, just hours after Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen launched an attack on an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.
Abe’s trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year. It’s also the first visit of a sitting Japanese premier in the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution.
But success may prove difficult for Abe, as the Houthi rebel attack on Saudi’s Abha regional airport underscored. Separately, the front page of the Iranian daily Farheekhtegan, or Educated, published yesterday morning a picture of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast — a reference to America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
“How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?” the newspaper asked in dual English and Farsi headlines. Hard-line news outlets in Iran immediately picked up the front page from the paper, published by students of Islamic Azad University, which has campuses across the nation.
Abe’s plane landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport yesterday afternoon where he was greeted by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He was to immediately meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini on Thursday.
Abe landed just hours after the attack in Abha. The Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, said they launched a cruise missile at the Saudi airport while the kingdom said 26 people were hurt.
Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest number of civilians to be injured in Saudi Arabia as a result of an attack by the rebels since the start of the Saudi-led war in Yemen more than four years ago.
The rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite news channel said the missile hit its intended target, halting air traffic at the airport in the town of Abha in the kingdom’s southwest, some 165 kilometers (100 miles) from the Saudi-Yemen border. The war in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has killed tens of thousands of civilians, with most of the deaths blamed on Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, and has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
Saudi coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki was quoted on the state-run Al-Ekhabirya news channel as saying three women and two children were among those hurt and that eight people were hospitalized while 18 suffered minor injuries.
At least one Yemeni and one Indian national were among those injured in the attack, which al-Turki said struck the airport’s arrivals hall between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
The Houthis have previously used ballistic missiles to target the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the airport there. More recently, they have launched bomb-laden drones targeting a key oil pipeline and the southwest city of Khamis Mushait.
A Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, said yesterday’s attack was in response to Saudi Arabia’s “continued aggression and blockade on Yemen.” Earlier in the week, he’d said Houthi attacks on Saudi airports were “the best way to break the blockade” of the airport in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, which the Houthis overran in 2014.
Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade level on July 7 if European allies fail to offer new terms for the nuclear deal. While President Donald Trump says he wants to talk to Tehran, the U.S. has piled on sanctions that have seen Iran’s currency, the rial, plummet along with Iran’s crucial oil exports. Amir Vahdat, Aya Batrawy, Jon Gambrell, Tehran, AP