The maiden operational launch of Iran’s Soumar Kh-55 cruise missile was apparently entrusted to Yemen’s Houthis against a UAE target. Has it been given to Hizballah, another Iranian proxy?
Yemen’s Houthi rebels last week showed on their TV channel video footage of Iran’s most highly advanced Soumar.Kh-55 cruise missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead. They claimed to have fired it at the unfinished Abu Dhabi power plant on Dec.3. The United Arab Emirates refuted this claim, saying that any missile reaching their air space would have been intercepted by advanced Emirati air defenses.
But would it? DEBKAfile’s military sources point out that neither Saudi Arabia nor UAE have air defense systems that are up to challenging this advanced Iranian cruise missile. With a maximum range of up to 3,000km, this reportedly re-engineered Russian KH-55 cruise missile, which could reach Israel from Iran, flew 600km on its test voyage in 2015 and can be launched from ships, aircraft and submarines.
Six examples of the Russian original were smuggled to Iran through Ukraine in 2001. It was never established whether they came with or without their nuclear warheads, but the intelligence presumption was that the vendors (most likely Ukrainian officers in charge of the stores) handed over the technical manuals for mounting them on the missiles. In April 2015, by which time this embarrassing affair had been brushed out of sight, six world powers signed a nuclear deal with Iran. No one bothered to mention the half a dozen nuclear-capable cruise missiles already reposing quietly in Iran’s arsenal.
But shortly after that deal was in the bag, the Iranian defense minister at the time announced he had just inaugurated what he called “the Soumar production line.”
Two years later, in January 2017, the re-engineered missile had its first field test. While US and Israeli officials appeared impervious, the German Die Welt newspaper reported that the Iranian Soumar had hit its target 600km away. On Dec. 3, the Soumar conducted its first real operation. It was the Houthi strike against the UAE nuclear plant under construction at al Barakah in Abu Dhabi. It took place in the full sight of US and Middle East intelligence surveillance. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Iranian variety of the Soumar has a range of 2,500km and speed of 860km/h. It flies at very low altitudes to escape detection. Very little is known about its guidance system.
Images appearing on social media – one of which is attached to this report – showed sections of the Iran-made Soumar/Kh-55 missile on the ground at the Al-Jawf governorate of northern Yemen near the Saudi border, attesting to the fact that it was launched from there, but apparently failed to cruise towards its UAE target and exploded shortly after takeoff.
For Israeli, this episode is important as an indicator that Iran is ready to hand over to its Yemeni proxy its most highly advanced nuclear-capable hardware, for the sake of the war it is waging against Saudi Arabia and its Gulf ally. The question now is whether Tehran has also gifted this weapon to another of its proxies, the Lebanese Hizballah. Of relevance is the fact that Hizballah and Iranian officers and missile experts are physically present in Yemen alongside the Houthi insurgents and very likely attended the Soumar’s maiden launch against the UAE. At all events, Hizballah officers are obviously using the Yemen war to gain valuable experience in the use of cruise missiles, just as they have used the Syrian war to acquire important experience in large-scale combat operations and support for Russian air strikes.
Worth noting is a telling comment by the deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Brig. Gen Hossein Salami on Nov. 25. Discussing Iran’s ballistic missiles, Salami said that Iran was not limiting their range “due to lack of technology…We are following a strategic doctrine.” He then added: “So far we have not felt that Europe is a threat. But if Europe wants to turn into a threat, we will increase the range of our missiles.” This was an indirect admission that Iran possesses ballistic missiles with a range of more than 2,000km which are capable of reaching Europe.