Houthi Attacks on Saudi Arabia and the Implications of Iran’s Weapons Proliferation in Yemen



In the past few months, the Houthis have  targeted multiple civilian locations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and recently the Houthis launched an attack targeting Aramco’s residential areas in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province.   The Kingdom’s air defense system had thwarted a ballistic missile targeting Riyadh on February 11, 2021, and intercepted armed drones  targeting Jizan and Khamis Mushayt on March 6, 2021. These Houthi attacks resulted in  global condemnation as the militia has  repeatedly targeted civilians in the Kingdom.  Amid pressure to restart  nuclear talks,  Iran has attempted to gain bargaining chips by threatening  regional peace and stability  by carrying out a spate of attacks targeting the Kingdom.   Furthermore, Iran attempted to escalate attacks in response to US airstrikes targeting its locations and proxies in Syria. Some newspapers close to the Iranian leadership mentioned that the Yemeni arena witnessed escalation in the aftermath of US airstrikes in Syria.  The extent of Iran’s military support to the Houthis is known and well-documented, with Tehran’s supply of weapons threatening the security not only of Yemen but of neighbouring countries as well, with the Kingdom facing the most security threats from the Houthis.

Not only has Iran transferred a diverse arsenal  to the Houthis but it has also helped them in developing missiles.  The suspicion surrounding Iran’s help  to the Houthis grew after the militia  used Burkan-1 and Burkan-2 missiles in 2018 which starkly resemble the shape, range, and type of  Tehran’s Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Earlier, the US Navy had interdicted various missile parts and components evidently of Iranian origin heading towards Yemen including anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-surface cruise missiles (SSCMs), air-defense missiles, and anti-tank missiles.

 The Houthis have used missiles and drones of Iranian origin to target the Kingdom. As per research by the UK-based investigative organization Conflict Armament Research, the Qasef-1 UAV (an identical type of Qasef-2K which  targeted Abha airport recently) is a variant of Iran’s   Ababil-II.  It shares “near-identical design and construction characteristics and features identical serial number prefixes.” Furthermore, the Houthi attacks on  the Kingdom  increased after the IRGC officer Hassan Irloo was appointed as an illegal ambassador to the Houthi government in Sana’a.

As per the report by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, the Houthis have  obtained Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) engines and off-the-shelf parts for missiles and drones from Iran  via different intermediary networks. Iran has also supplied the Houthis with anti-ship missiles, detonators, rocket-propelled grenades, thermo-optical sights for RPGs, and WBIED conversion kits. The report also revealed that the Houthis use  sea routes extensively to  obtain weapons and other components violating UNSC Resolution 2216. Iran has continuously violated this resolution  by supplying the Houthis with arms or sophisticated components  for their indigenous weapons. As per some other reports, Iran’s elite  Quds Force has also  trained   the Houthis. Iran’s actions also clearly violate  the UNCLOS as it has repeatedly shipped weapons  to  the Houthis in Yemen,   threatening  maritime security.  

 According to many reports, Iran continues to exploit the hardship and poverty in Yemen to recruit poor fishermen as arms smugglers and send them to Iran for military training. After interrogating some captured members of a weapons supply network, it was revealed  that locations off the coast of Somalia and port cities like Bandar Abbas were used to train them and smuggle weapons.  Recently the US Navy seized smuggled weapons including AK-47 assault rifles, sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and several weapon components from two dhows during a naval operation in  international waters off Somalia’s coast.  

Last year, the Arab Coalition seized a dhow off the coastal town of Mocha in Yemen which was heading to the Houthis carrying hundreds of weapons from Iran. The Yemeni government has accused Iran of exporting arms to the Houthis for a long time. During an interview, Gerald  Fierstein, former US Ambassador to Yemen said,  “The Iranian engagement began long before the outbreak of the civil war or the Arab Coalition’s intervention. It’s clear that the Iranians saw the Houthi movement as an opportunity to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and to threaten its southern border.” The Houthi escalation  has impeded the flow of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people, as fighting at  important seaports like Hodeida  has disrupted  food and medicine supplies.

 White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, commenting on the recent Houthi attacks on the Kingdom, said that the United States is working in close cooperation with Saudi Arabia to deter the threats emanating from Yemen. Furthermore, the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia said “the heinous assaults on civilians and vital infrastructure demonstrate lack of respect for human life and disregard for peace efforts.”

Editorial Team