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Netanyahu feared flying over Saudi Arabia over threat of Houthi missiles

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he was deterred from flying to the United Arab Emirates through Saudi Arabian airspace last week because of the threat of missile fire from Iranian proxies in Yemen.

Netanyahu had called off a visit to the Emirates last week over a spat with neighboring Jordan, which had temporarily closed its airspace to the Israeli prime minister’s flight.

But rather than bypass Jordanian airspace and take a more southerly route across Saudi skies, Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 13 on Saturday “there were also problems a week ago in the skies of Saudi Arabia,” referring to recent missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Netanyahu did not elaborate, nor did he say his plane was targeted by the Iran-backed Houthis.

Smoke billows during clashes between forces loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebel fighters in al-Jadaan area in central Yemen on February 11, 2021 (AFP)

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control the capital and much of the country’s north, have escalated their cross-border attacks on critical Saudi infrastructure in recent weeks, crashing bomb-laden drones and missiles into the kingdom’s Patriot missile batteries and revealing gaps in the country’s defenses.

Last week, missiles and drones hit one of the world’s largest oil shipping ports and halted air traffic toward the international airport in the port city of Jiddah. While Houthi-claimed attacks on Saudi Arabia rarely cause substantial damage, such strikes have roiled the world economy and raise the risk of a disruption in global oil supplies.

Netanyahu was slated to make the first official visit by an Israeli leader to the United Arab Emirates, half a year after the countries established formal relations. He had hoped to use the audience with the UAE’s crown prince to boost his reelection campaign less than two weeks before Israel’s March 23 parliamentary elections.

The Prime Minister’s Office said it had difficulties coordinating the flight over Jordanian airspace after Jordan’s crown prince canceled a visit to the Temple Mount, which is under Jordanian custodianship, due to disagreements over security arrangements.

The prime minister insists that relations between the two countries are positive, adding that “Jordan needs good relations with us no less than we need good relations with Jordan.”

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