Yemen's "Hizbullah": Implications of Houthi Missile and Drone Improvements

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Michael Knights - On March 25, Yemen's Houthi militia attacked Saudi Arabia with 18 explosive drones and 8 ballistic missiles, striking energy targets 900 miles away in the oil-rich Eastern Province and 650 miles away on the Red Sea coast. Such attacks are becoming a weekly occurrence, underlining the presence of a mature missile-drone assembly industry in Houthi-held areas of Yemen and foreshadowing further range increases that could allow the Iran-backed rebels to reach new targets including Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Iran and the Houthis have developed a military industry in Sanaa and Saada that fuses imports from Iran (e.g., drone engines, guidance systems, liquid/solid-fuel components) with domestically available military items and imported industrial materials (e.g., fiberglass). In March 2021, 70 major weapons systems were fired into Saudi Arabia, compared to 25 in February and 3 in January. The U.S. and its partners should intensify their efforts to map out missile and drone procurement networks and expose them to kinetic, cyber, financial, and counter-smuggling operations. Separately, any international peace deal must be conditioned on the Houthis removing Iranian technicians and coming back into compliance with the Missile Technology Control Regime - which means giving up all of its missiles. Washington should assess the Houthis' future intentions toward not only U.S. personnel and facilities in the region, but also Israel, international shipping, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Hizbullah. If the Houthis are likely to be a U.S. adversary in the future, then officials should start thinking about a containment strategy. Given the group's growing long-range arsenal and its commitment to its official motto of "Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam," such contingency planning already seems prudent. The writer is a senior fellow of The Washington Institute.

2021-04-05 00:00:00

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