Saudi Arabia is caught up in an escalating missile offensive launched by Yemeni Houthi rebels and their backers, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Al-Qods Brigades officers. The radius of their attacks is constantly widening. Of late, a sophisticated Iranian-made missile hit a Saudi military facility deep inside the kingdom.
This offensive began Saturday June 6, when at least 80 Scud missiles fired by Houthis flew across the border to hit Saudi army positions in the southern Jizan region just inside the border.
Later that day, another round of Scuds targeted strategic civilian installations. Flights had to be cancelled at the main southern Jizan and Abha airports and airport terminals evacuated.
A third round of Yemeni missiles were aimed that day at the largest airbase in Saudi Arabia, Khamis al-Mushayt in the southwest, from which Saudi bombers take off to strike the Houthi rebels and their Yemeni military allies.
The Saudis claimed that two of their Patriot anti-missile batteries intercepted Scuds. But DEBKA Weekly’s military sources reported at the time that the batteries belonged to American forces and were deployed to defend the US MQ-1B Predator drones operating over Yemen against Al Qaeda (AQAP) forces.
They also gather intelligence on Houthi and Iranian military movements and the Hizballah advisers training the rebels and pass data to the Saudi air force.
The next Scud attack a few days later targeted Towailaq, a district in Jizan province. Yemeni rebels claimed it caused heavy damage to an arms depot and killed several Saudi soldiers. It came after Saudi warplanes pounded two locations in Saada Province and killed at least 70 civilians at Bani Sayah and Sahar.
Iran may bring Hamas anti-Israel rocket arsenal level with the Houthis
DEBKA Weekly’s military experts note that to beat back the Saudi air campaign over Yemen, Iranian strategists borrowed tactics they devised for warfare against Israel in past conflicts – in a word, ground-to-ground missiles.
Hizballah and pro-Iranian groups in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, routinely countered Israel air strikes in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip by shooting missiles and rockets at Israeli civilian locations, which paralyzed the coastal cities of its heartland: Haifa, Natanya, Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Yemen is different only in the high grade of missiles available to the insurgents. The Houthis had the good fortune to gain control of the Yemeni army’s only missile brigade, when its officers defected with a stock of 300 Scuds, mostly C and B, and some with a range of 400 km.
The Iranian-backed groups in Gaza have never got hold of Scuds. Their medium-range arsenal is built around a small core of the far inferior Fajr-5 rockets. In all their years of warfare with Israel, up until 2015, the Palestinians of Gaza never owned rockets capable of causing real damage to Israel’s Negev (Ramon) and central (Hatzor) air bases.
In contrast, the heavy ordnance in Houthi hands is able to cause serious damage to Saudi military infrastructure.
In future conflicts, Israel will have to take into account a decision by Iranian strategists to upgrade the Palestinian missile arsenal.
Iran gives Houthi insurgents long-range missile
But for the Houthis, the Scuds were just the beginning.
On Tuesday, June 30, Iran and the Yemeni rebels escalated their missile war on Saudi Arabia. For the first time, they hit a military facility deep inside the kingdom, claiming that Scuds had struck the Royal Saudi Strategic Missiles Force at Al Sulayyil, 500 km from the capital of Riyadh.
This base houses the Saudi army’s southern and northern missile brigades, which are armed with DF-21 solid fuel, medium range ballistic missiles purchased from China for use against Iran.
Since Al Sulayyil is also 500 km from the Yemen border – the Yemeni claim to have hit the base with a Scud must be taken with a pinch of salt. It was out of range. It is more likely that their communiqué was meant to divert attention from the fact that they had received a supply of advanced Iranian Fateh-110 missiles which do have a range of up to 500 km.
The Fateh-100 barrage against the Saudi missile base was accompanied by strikes of shorter range against military bases in Jizan.
Tehran upgrades its military intervention in Middle East conflicts
These turn of events in the Yemen war is more than the escalation of a local conflict. It shows that Tehran has decided to upgrade its military operations in the Middle East.
If Tehran is prepare to arm Yemeni insurgents with weapons systems capable of striking Saudi Arabia’s Chinese missiles, this means that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has no qualms about attacking any target at all – even one associated with Iran’s close friend China – in order to gain the upper hand against an adversary.
According to our military sources, Saudi rulers are at a loss for a response to this flagrant act of war. They are beginning to realize that a campaign fought unilaterally and exclusively by aerial combat may cause extensive loss of life but does not win wars. This discovery is not new: President Barack Obama has heard it countless times since his air war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria has, month after month, failed to halt or even contain the Islamist State’s steady advance.