On March 26, 2018, the Houthis, a Shiite Muslim militia in Yemen backed by Iran, fired seven ballistic missiles at strategic targets within Saudi Arabian territory. The barrage marked the third anniversary of the launch of military action by the Saudi-Led Coalition (SLC) against the Houthis. Several days earlier, the Houthis also shot “new” Badr 1 ballistic missiles at Aramco oil installations inside Saudi Arabia and the bases of Saudi special forces.1 Iranian and Hizbullah media outlets reported on the missiles fired at Saudi Arabia at length.23
The Houthi-controlled TV station al-Masirah and the Yemen news agency SABA stated that the Houthis carried out large-scale ballistic strikes on a range of Saudi targets. They reported that they fired a Burkan–2H (or Volcano-2H) missile at King Khalid international airport4 in Riyadh, a Qaher-2H missile at Abha airport in the Asir province, and other missiles at airports in Najran and Jizan, as well as at other “undeclared targets.”5
The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Information stated that Saudi Arabia’s royal air force intercepted seven missiles with four target areas: three were aimed at Riyadh, one was directed toward the southwest in Khamis Mushait, one along the southern border targeting Najran, and two others were headed for the southern city of Jizan.
Differences between Saudi and Houthi Reports
According to Saudi reports, the interception of the missiles, launched in a “random and absurd fashion, targeting residential areas,” led to fragments “raining on a few residential neighborhoods,” which caused the death of an Egyptian resident and material damage to “civilian objects.” The press release added that “This hostile and indiscriminate action by the Iranian-backed Houthis proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting the Houthis with qualitative capabilities…. These aggressive actions are in blatant violation of UN Security Resolution 2216 (on violence in Yemen) and Resolution 2231 (endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the nuclear program of Iran [JCPOA]). These hostile acts continue to pose a direct threat to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in addition to regional, as well as international security.”6
Contrast the Saudi reports to the Houthi claims that the missiles were “intended for self-defense against Saudi aggression, which has been going on for the past three years.” The missiles hit all of their intended targets, said the Houthis, and the missile strike was carried out to mark March 26, the third anniversary of “(Saudi) aggression and the fourth year of the steadfastness of the Yemenite people.” Before the missiles were launched, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi gave a speech in which he declared, “Saudi Arabia will feel the amazing development of Yemenite missile capabilities on the ground.” He emphasized that he would continue to use long-range missiles and recruit more fighters to the battle against Saudi Arabia.
During the fourth year of this war, we will use more advanced weaponry and even vary our missile range so that we will successfully intercept the American and non-American [a possible allusion to Israel] air defense systems, and hit Saudi Arabian territory…. We will use Volcano Burkan and Badr ballistic missiles, and also long-range drones, which have excellent military capabilities.7
The Missiles and the Ambassador
The Burkan-1 is a modified version of Scud B technology. An improved version, Burkan-2, was unveiled in February 2017. The Houthis first used the third version, Burkan-2H, on July 22, 2017, against the Yanbu oil refinery, and later the same year the Burkan-2H was launched against Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport (November 4, 2017). Saudi Arabia presented evidence that the fragments of both missiles were made in Iran and smuggled into Yemen.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, released a statement identifying the Burkan-2H as Iran’s Qiam missile:8
Saudi Arabia recently released information regarding a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia in July 2017. The information shows that the missile was an Iranian Qiam – a type of weapon that had not been present in Yemen before the conflict, constituting violations of UN Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231. This follows Saudi Arabia’s claim that it intercepted a separate Houthi-launched missile, shot down over Riyadh on November 4, 2017, that may also be of Iranian origin.
Saudi Arabia’s announcement confirms once again the Iranian regime’s complete disregard for its international obligations. By providing these types of weapons to the Houthi militias in Yemen, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is violating two UN resolutions simultaneously.9
The SLC, led by Saudi Arabia, began comprehensive military action against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to support President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who fled Yemen when Houthi rebels, led by Ali Abdullah Saleh with military and political support from Iran, conquered the capital, Sana’a, and other parts of the country. Ali Abdullah Saleh was eventually murdered by the Houthis.
For the past three years, the Saudi Arabians have waged an ineffective battle against the Houthis, who, with massive support from Iran, are waging a war of attrition against Saudi Arabia in the sea (with mines and explosive boats), in the air (anti-aircraft missiles fired at coalition airplanes), and on land, where they receive the military assistance and guidance of the Qods forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and instructors from the Lebanese Hizbullah.
How This Affects Israel
What are the implications of all this for Israel? Iran continues to see Yemen as a testing ground for checking its missile capabilities and asymmetric warfare techniques, which it considers to be a main component of its method of combat against selected armies. In the past, Iran replicated its warfare capabilities in Lebanon (in skirmishes between Hizbullah and Israel), in Iraq, using them primarily against the coalition powers there, causing heavy losses to American forces, and also in the arenas of other conflicts that it waged. However, the longer the fighting continues in Yemen (the end of which does not yet seem to be on the horizon), the more Iran perfects its missile capabilities and its naval asymmetric warfare techniques. According to experience, these capabilities may appear in future conflicts where Iran is involved, primarily in future fighting with Hizbullah north of Israel and Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
According to the head of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), General Joseph Votel, “Iran achieved in five years in Yemen supporting the Houthis what it did in Lebanon with Hizbullah in two decades.”10 Testifying before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on February 27, 2018, Votel added, “We go to China Lake to test our weapons systems. [Iranians] go to test their weapons systems in Yemen.”
In the international arena, the barrage of missiles fired at Saudi Arabia has been widely denounced, including in the Arab world. Iran and its missile capabilities are at the forefront of international interest at this sensitive time, when the United States is examining its policy toward the nuclear issue, and the decision-makers are now led by more hawkish personalities, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton, who are opposed to the nuclear agreement with Iran and the development of its missile capabilities. Additionally, France and the United Kingdom are calling for deeper involvement in the issue of Iran’s missile capabilities in an attempt to salvage the nuclear agreement.
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