More Iran-backed Houthi Missile Strikes for Saudis – Price of Ramped up US Aid

Yemen’s Houthi insurgents are given the same rule book as their fellow Iranian proxies in the Middle East. Dates and events of significance to their antagonists are marked by belligerent violence. This is common practice for the Lebanese Hizballah and the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Therefore, on March 22, two days after Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman (MbS) arrived at the White House to meet US President Donald Trump, the Houthis unveiled “a new short range ballistic missile called Bader-1” which was said to have been “test-fired successfully at the Saudi Aramco oil facility” in the southern province of Najran.

The Yemeni Missile Forces, a branch of the Houthi insurgent army, described Bader-1 as “a solid fuel ballistic missile with a speed of up to 4.5 Mach and high accuracy.” Experts who viewed the published images classified it as a solid fuel artillery rocket rather than a ballistic missile, and likely a copy of the Iranian Fajr-3, which is roughly the same diameter and length. The Fajr-3 has a range of over 43km, which would be enough to strike Najran from northern Yemen.

Aramco denied that any of its facilities were hit by a missile or a rocket, which may have missed is mark and exploded in the desert. However, the points scored by that attack are significant for four players, the Saudis, Iran, Yemen and Iraq.

  1. Tehran sent a strong message to Washington to back off from European proposals for restrictions or sanctions on its ballistic missiles, to save the nuclear accord from being scrapped by President Trump’s threat. Iran is determined to continue exporting its missiles to its Middle East “allies” along with production technology, because it serves the Islamic Republic as a first-rate lever of military pressure. Those recipients are the Houthis in Yemen and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, who were supplied with Fajr-3 – and possibly also Fajr-5 – artillery missiles, followed by technology for their manufacture and improved accuracy.
  2. Tehran will not be deterred from this path by any promises President Trump may have given the Saudi crown prince for helping his military effort in Yemen, whether in the form of intelligence or other assistance, such as US air strikes against Al Qaeda and Islamic State strongholds in southern Yemen. When these strongholds are abandoned, United Arab Emirates forces move in. And so, the more the US helps the Saudi effort in Yemen, the more ballistic missiles the Yemeni Houthis will shoot into Saudi Arabia. Neither will Iran be swayed by the secret peace talks for Yemen US diplomats are holding in Oman.
  3. Although the Houthi strikes rarely cause substantial damage to property, they do have a deleterious psychological effect on the Saudi populace and raise questions about the crown prince’s tough decisions. If he really is the kingdom’s strongman, why do the sirens in Riyadh keep on sounding alarms of incoming missiles?

The Houthis chose March 25, the third anniversary of Saudi military intervention in the Yemen, to turn up the heat with their biggest barrage ever – 14 ballistic missiles against four Saudi military hubs. The Saudi military announced that their missile defense batteries had intercepted seven. Three missiles were aimed at Riyadh, killing at least one person, an Egyptian construction worker and injuring several others. The first fatality the Houthi missile campaign against Saudi Arabia just happened to be a foreigner. Two missiles hit the two military towns of Khamis Mushayt and Najran in the southern Jazan province.

  1. Also high on Tehran’s agenda is an effort to stymie a highly significant visit by MbS to Baghdad ahead of Iraq’s general election on May 12, which is in discussion by the US, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This visit must be stopped before it forces cracks in Iran’s preeminent standing in Baghdad and starts driving a wedge between Iraqi Shiites and Tehran. The ramped-up Houthi missile strikes are an attempt to sabotage the crown prince’s plans for this visit. Tehran is also trying to stir up trouble on the Saudi-Iraqi border.

An oppressive cloud hanging over Riyadh is the desperate plight of the Yemeni population in consequence of an endless war: Nearly three out of every four people in a population of 22.2 million rely on humanitarian aid to survive, More than 8 million are on the brink of famine and more than 10,000 Yemenis have died from critical health conditions – mainly for lack of access to medical treatment outside the country. In the past month, more than 1.8 million people were forced to flee their homes, raising the number of internally displaced Yemenis to nearly 2.4 million.

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