September 28, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran-backed Houthi Strike in Saudi Arabia Kills Three

September 28, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran-backed Houthi Strike in Saudi Arabia Kills Three

Latest Developments

A third Bahraini soldier died on September 27 from injuries sustained in a Houthi drone strike in Saudi Arabia on September 25 that killed two Bahraini soldiers. At the time of the attack, the soldiers were patrolling the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Yemeni terrorist group since 2015. Saudi Brig. Gen. Turki al-Maliki, the coalition’s spokesman, warned that the coalition “reserves the right to respond at the appropriate place and time,” endangering the fragile ceasefire the opposing sides agreed to last year.

Expert Analysis

“A leading goal of Riyadh in the Beijing-brokered agreement with Tehran was to end Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. The idea was that Riyadh could enlist Beijing to exert pressure on Tehran to end Iranian and Iranian proxy attacks. Leaders in Riyadh may be starting to wonder whether Beijing is either unable or unwilling to deliver on its promises.” Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The incident is unlikely to escalate into war but is a stark reminder that de-escalation and cease-fires can never replace comprehensive settlements. Militias, even when they behave, are ragtag armies whose behavior is unpredictable and whose violence often goes unpunished.” Hussain Abdul-Hussain, FDD Research Fellow

A Fragile Truce

In March 2022, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, announced that Yemen’s warring sides had agreed to a two-month cease-fire. The truce has largely held despite sporadic fighting. On August 30, Houthi President Mahdi al-Mashat threatened to attack U.S. Marines and British military personnel located in nearby governorates if they crossed a “red line.” In a statement to Reuters, Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdulsalam blamed the coalition for killing 12 Houthi soldiers along the Saudi border in the past month, calling it a truce violation.

China’s Growing Role in the Middle East

The attack comes as Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels’ primary supporter, Iran, reestablish diplomatic relations for the first time since 2016 after signing a deal brokered by Beijing. China is a major oil customer of both Iran and the Arab states and is interested in increasing its diplomatic, economic, and military clout in the region. Negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis followed the rapprochement with Iran, including a meeting last week after which the Saudi Foreign Ministry touted “positive results.”

Latest Analysis

Iran to Reopen Embassy in Saudi Arabia as Blinken Visits,” FDD Flash Brief

Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties,” FDD Flash Brief

The United States and Saudi Arabia: A Possible Path Forward,” by Bradley Bowman, Orde Kittrie, and Ryan Brobst

Mapping the Expansion of China’s Global Military Footprint,” by Craig Singleton


Arab Politics Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism