Analysis: Houthi missiles against the Saudi-led coalition

For the last four years, Yemen’s Houthi insurgent movement has conducted a myriad of attacks against Saudi Arabia and its coalition against the insurgents. Ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drone strikes, and even naval attacks have been directed towards Saudi Arabian and Emirati territory. 

FDD’s Long War Journal has mapped out these attacks, strikes, and launches over a three-part series in an effort provide more context and information about Houthi capabilities. This will also provide insight into the spillover of the conflict into the Gulf countries. 

The first entry will detail the Houthi ballistic and cruise missile campaign against Saudi Arabia and its allies. The second will look at Houthi drone strikes and the implications therein, while the third will detail the Houthi naval attacks in the Red Sea.

While the Saudi-led coalition is certainly not blameless for its role in the violence in Yemen, the data shows that the Houthis have also deliberately targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure in this conflict.

The spillover into neighboring countries stands to exacerbate the conflict and perpetuate the cycle of violence that will leave many more people dead.

This is an important nuance to help better the understanding of the conflict in Yemen.

Methodology

Data for this project was manually collected from both English and Arabic-language resources ranging from state-run news services in the Gulf to the archives of several regional news outlets. Social media posts, such as on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, were also analyzed.

Wire news services, such as Reuters, were used in the data collection for additional sourcing. Smaller regional outlets, mainly Yemeni news sites, were also consulted.

Houthi-ran media and allied sources, such as Lebanese Hezbollah’s Al Manar or Iran’s Fars News, were sometimes used, often with the noted caveat that the Saudi-led coalition did not confirm those instances.

Most of these were just republished articles of the original Houthi claim. These sources were utilized as a result of some cases wherein Coalition sources would later confirm Houthi statements – thereby improving the veracity of the Houthi’s overall claim.

Additionally, it stands to reason that some instances were simply not reported by Saudi Arabia or its allies; the inverse is also true where on some occasions, Houthis did not report a missile or drone launch when the Saudis claimed intercepting a missile or drone in its territory.

In both cases, the claim was added to the database.

Houthi ballistic and cruise missile launches

Following the Saudi-led intervention inside Yemen in March 2015, Houthi forces have utilized Soviet and Iranian-copied ballistic and cruise missiles to target Saudi military and civilian infrastructure inside Saudi Arabia and on Coalition targets inside Yemen.

Saudi officials reported late last year that over 200 ballistic missiles have been fired towards its territory.

FDD’s Long War Journal has been able to find information on 255 ballistic missile launches inside Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Two cruise missiles were also recorded as being fired into Saudi territory, while another was purportedly directed at the United Arab Emirates.

In the vast majority of these cases, either Saudi Arabia or the UAE claimed to have intercepted and destroyed these missiles via missile defense systems. 

It should be noted that military experts have cast doubt on these interception claims. While it is certainly possible that some missiles have indeed been successfully intercepted, it is highly unlikely that either Saudi Arabia or the UAE actually has that high of a success rate as reported.

The lack of independent reporting in southern Saudi Arabia makes it difficult to corroborate this information. That said, in some instances, civilians were reported killed or wounded in Houthi ballistic missile or cruise missile launches.

This includes an Aug. 2016 ballistic missile that killed seven civilians in Najran and the June 2019 cruise missile attack on the Abha international airport that left 26 people injured. Saudi officials have also confirmed that at least 110 civilians have been injured by Houthi ballistic missiles.

While most missiles have been directed into southern Saudi Arabia, cities further away, such as Yanbu, Mecca, or Riyadh, have also been targeted. On August 1, the Houthis claimed to have struck Dammam in Saudi’s Eastern Province near Bahrain. However, this has yet to be confirmed or denied by the Saudis.

And while vehemently denied by the UAE, the Houthis have also claimed to have damaged a nuclear power plant in Abu Dhabi with a cruise missile. 

Most of the conflict’s spillover, however, has been relegated to southern Saudi Arabia. Apart from missiles and drones, almost daily fighting is also reported in Saudi’s southern Jizan, ‘Asir, and Najran provinces. 

Additionally, 59 ballistic missiles have been launched on Coalition troops and bases inside Yemen. The majority of these were located in Marib, in central Yemen, or near Mocha, on Yemen’s Red Sea coast.

Dozens of troops from Saudi, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan have been killed in these strikes. 

The exact launch location for the Houthi’s missiles was not found in the majority of cases, but in the instances where that information was available, the two most common provinces for missile launches have been Saada and Amran in Yemen’s north.

On several occasions, as most recently as July 20, the Saudi coalition also reported to have bombed missile launch locations inside Sana’a. These locations make the most sense given the territory controlled by the Houthi forces and the overall ranges of their ballistic missile arsenal.

That said, the use of ballistic missiles has slowed significantly since Dec. 2018. Since January, only 20 have been reportedly fired into Saudi Arabia or at locations inside Yemen. In the same timeframe last year, 86 ballistic missiles were fired.

This decrease is likely correlated to increased pressure put on the Houthi insurgents from developments on the ground and likely limits on their overall stockpile.

However, Houthi officials recently announced the production of new missiles, which will likely be utilized sometime in the near future.

With the withdrawal of the majority of Emirati troops from Yemen, it remains to be seen in the Houthis will continue to sporadically claim attacks inside the Emirates.

Despite the withdrawal, the UAE’s allies inside Yemen will also likely continue to be targeted by the Houthis. This can be seen with yesterday’s ballistic missile and drone attack on a military parade of the UAE-backed Security Belt forces.

And the insurgent movement certainly shows no sign of slowing down its campaign inside Saudi Arabia.

This is part one of a three-part series. Part two will detail Houthi drone strikes into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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