Pressed by Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen, Houthis Attempt Deep Strikes in Saudi Arabia, UAE

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Likely provided by Iran, Burkan-2 ballistic missiles and Soumar cruise missiles are providing the ‘long arm’ of the Houthis. In February 2017 Yemeni news agency SABA released photos of five Burkan-2 missiles claimed to be produced in the country. So far three confirmed launches, in July, November, and December. The most recent was the only one launched in daylight.

Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen targeted the Saudi capital Riyadh today, launching a Burkan 2 ballistic missile. This was the second failed attempt by the Houthis to hit the capital of Saudi Arabia. The first targeted the city’s international airport. Today’s attack was directed at the Royal Court at al-Yamama palace, where a meeting of Saudi leaders was underway. The Saudi air defense intercepted and destroyed the missile at a relatively close range above the city.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdussalam said that the Houthis fired a Burkan-2 ballistic missile at the Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh. “The Saudis started the war. Our response will continue and increase, whether it’s targeting deep inside Saudi Arabia, targeting military positions where Saudi jets fly from, or military bases inside Yemeni territory,” Abdul Salam said.

Houthis claimed they have launched the first Burkan-2 at Riyadh on March 19, but provided no evidence of such attack. Burkan-2 is thought to be the Iranian Qiam-1 missile, a derivative of the Russian Scud-C, a ballistic missile with a range of 850 km. In its first launch at the Saudi port city of Yanboh on July 22, 2017, Burkan-2 achieved a longer distance than the range specified by the design – hitting a target at a distance of at least 920 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

In recent weeks several Houthi missiles were intercepted over Saudi Arabia, likely by Patriot air defense systems. On November 4 a Burkan-2 missile was intercepted not far from the Riyadh international airport, and on November 20 the military airbase at Khamis Mushayet was targeted by an unidentified missile that was also claimed to have been intercepted by the Saudi air defenses. In the past Houthis used SS-21 Tochka tactical short-range missiles, captured from the government forces. The Burkan-2 and Soumar were likely supplied by sea from Iran.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley presents the remains the body of an Iranian Qiam-1 ballistic missile believed to be retrieved from one of the sites attacked by Houthi Burkan-2 missiles in recent months. At the terminal phase of its flight, the warhead is separated from the missile body that is seen in this picture. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

The Houthis also launched a single Sumar cruise missiles on December 3. The target claimed by the Houthis was a nuclear plant being constructed in Abu Dhabi. This was the first time the Houthis used such a weapon, likely to have been supplied by Iran. Considered a derivative of the Russian KH-55 cruise missile, Soumar has a theoretical range of 2,500 km, enabling it to reach the UAE from a launch site in Yemen. However, the missile developed a malfunction while in flight it crashed after flying about 140 km.

A situational map of the conflict in Yemen. Source: Southfront

Using the conflicts in Syria and Yemen to demonstrate the capabilities of their weapons, particularly missiles and long-range weapons, Iran is projecting power and influence throughout and beyond the region.

Unlike the Syrian regime Iran is assisting in Syria, the Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen are under pressure, as Saudi-led coalition backing local forces are now closing on the city of Hudaydah, a strategic seaport on the Red Sea providing the Iranians a logistical link to support the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis control the mountainous heartland of Yemen, including the capital city Sana’a. The areas bordering Saudi Arabia also provide favorable locations for missile launches at coalition partners they are fighting in Yemen.

Soumar cruise missile was launched at a construction site of a nuclear plant in Abu Dhabi on December 3. The attack at such target was apparently meant to emphasize the potential of the weapon, even if it does not hit the target. “Our response will continue and increase, whether it’s targeting deep inside Saudi Arabia, targeting military positions where Saudi jets fly from, or military bases inside Yemeni territory” Houthi Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdussalam said after today’s ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.