Iran Sends Yemeni Rebels on Marine Suicide Missions in the Red Sea

Iran-backed Yemen rebels in three swift boats launched their first suicide sea attack on a Saudi Navy Al-Madinah-class frigate on patrol opposite the Yemeni Red Sea coast on Monday, Jan. 30.
Video footage of the attack from a distance shows the third boat hitting the frigate’s stern and exploding in a massive fireball, seemingly contradicting Iran’s claim of a guided missile strike by Houthi rebels backed by Tehran.
The frigate was one of four belonging to the Royal Saudi Navy Western Red Sea Fleet, that were built in France in the mid-1980s. Each has a full load displacement of 2,810 tons, is fitted with 8 Otomat anti-ship missiles, one Crotale surface-to-air missile launcher (with 8 missiles), one 100mm main gun, two 40mm guns, four torpedo tubes, and a helicopter deck and hangar for one AS565 Dauphin combat helicopter.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources note that the Saudi frigate crew of 176 officers and sailors abstained from using the formidable array of weaponry available to them, or even loft the helicopter. This indicated that they were not just caught by surprise, but away from their battle positions, although their ship was patrolling the hostile Yemeni coast.
The US Navy declined to confirm or deny the attack.
Last October saw an outbreak of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Navy attacks on surface vessels in the same region.
A United Arab Emirates HSV-2 Swift catamaran was disabled by a C-802 anti-ship missile, followed on Oct. 9 and 12, by anti-ship fire against the USS Mason (DDG-87) and USS Nitze (DDG-94), countered by SM-2 and ESSM missiles in both cases.
The US Navy retaliated on Oct. 13, with a salvo of cruise missiles that destroyed the three radar installations Iran had installed on Yemen’s shore to support Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping.
The appearance of the Houthi-manned suicide boats sends four ominous signals:
1. The IRGC has not given up on the fight to control Red Sea shipping routes – even after the US missile strike eliminated its strategic radar stations on the Yemeni coast. The focus now is on training Houthis as human missile substitutes by running small speedboats in suicide attacks on American and Saudi coalition ships in the Yemen war. This IRGC tactic has been tested against the US Fifth Fleet in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, and is evidently being reused to strike terror in all the other navies cruising in the Red Sea.
Such a strike on a Saudi ship must have obtained explicit permission from Tehran.
2. Iran’s marine suicide terror may be transposed to other arenas, especially opposite Syria. The alignment of the US, Russia and Turkey as partners behind a decision to push Iran and its Hizballah proxy out of the country has fueled anger in Tehran.
After placing US and UAE warships under their missiles, the Iranians will not hesitate to run suicide boats against US, Russian and Turkish warships off the Mediterranean shores of Lebanon and Syria. Hizballah marine commando units have begun training in the operation of these small boats for suicide attacks on large warships.
3. Israeli warships may become another target for Hizballah as well as for the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups in the Gaza Strip.
4. The Trump administration has been strangely silent about the suicide attack on the Saudi frigate more than a month ago, although the new Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis is fully aware of the strategic importance of the Red Sea region. It seems that the new US administration has not yet developed a coherent military operational plan for dealing with Iranian aggression. Tehran was left free to chalk up Washington’s non-response as a major success, and will no doubt continue to commit further provocations and acts of war in the Gulf, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

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