On Sunday, Dec. 3, Yemen’s Houthi rebels announced they had fired a “winged cruise missile” at the United Arab Emirate’s al-Barakah nuclear power plant construction site, 230km southwest of Abu Dhabi. UAE military authorities dismissed the claim, maintaining that if the missile had entered their air space, it would have been intercepted by Emirati air defenses,
This contention DEBKA Weekly’s military sources find hard to credit, because neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE is equipped with adequate air defense systems for warding off the advanced Iranian ballistic missiles that the Houthis are threatening to unleash against their cities and strategic infrastructure. Since the Houthis fired an Iranian ballistic missile against Riyadh on Nov. 4, Western and Middle East intelligence services have realized that the US Patriots guarding those targets are not up to dealing with ballistic missiles, especially when they are cruise missiles.
Now, the Houthi-affiliated TV channel has shown video footage claiming to represent Iran’s most highly advanced Soumark.Kh-55 cruise missile, which can carry a nuclear warhead. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates have air defense systems capable of intercepting this weapon. With a maximum range of up to 3,000km, this reportedly re-engineered Russian KH-55 cruise missile, which can reach Israel from Iran, flew 600km on its maiden voyage in 2015. It has the advantage that it can be launched from ships, aircraft and submarines.
Six examples of the Russian original were smuggled to Iran through Ukraine 16 years ago.
In the spring of 2015, the Iranian defense minister at the time inaugurated what was called the Soumar production line. The first field test of the missile was reported by the German Die Welt newspaper to have been conducted in January 2017. That report appeared a day after a top White House official said that Iran had been put “on notice” for launching a ballistic missile in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.
The Russian Kh-55 cruise missile from which the Iranian Soumar is copied has a maximum range of 2,500km and a speed of about 860 km/h. It could cover the distance to the UAE in one hour and 20 minutes on a trajectory through Saudi air space. Cruise missiles generally fly at low altitudes and are hard to detect. The KH-55 cruises at about 100 meters. But it is not known what kind of guidance system it has.
If, in fact, the Yemeni rebels possessed and fired a Soumar, which was somehow smuggled into Houthi controlled territory, it would be a major escalation of Iran’s armament for the Houthi rebels with state-of-the-art weaponry never made available to any other of its allies.
At the same time, the Yemeni Houthis’ success in using the Soumar is in question. Images recorded in the Middle East after they aimed a ballistic missile at the Gulf emirate showed broken missile fragments, including a warhead which had fallen in the Al-Jawf governorate in North Yemen. Those images, one of which appears on the attached picture, appears to show that the Houthis did fire a cruise missile at the unfinished Abu Dhabi nuclear plant, but that it fell short and exploded near to the place from which it was launched.
Nonetheless, the threat of future cruise missile attacks can’t be dismissed. Tehran is clearly pursuing its emphasis on missiles as the primary weapon of its armament program. The Iranians are most likely ready to give this uniquely powerful cruise missile into the hands of its Yemeni proxy to promote its overriding ambition to score victory in the Yemen war, as a big step towards domination of the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf regions. Tehran is also holding the Soumar over the heads of its critics as a means of silencing them. When European leaders called for negotiations on Iran’s missile program, Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Hossein Salami pushed back on Nov. 25 by directly threatening Europe with extended-range missile attack.