This weekend, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile at Riyadh, which was successfully intercepted by the anti-missile system provided to the Saudis by the U.S. The strike is part of the bloody civil war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their allies are trying to drive out the Houthis and their allies and restore the internationally-recognized government—thus preventing Yemen from becoming another satellite of Tehran. Michael Knights writes:
Since the Saudi-led intervention began in March 2015, Houthi rebels have fired hundreds of short-range tactical rockets and missiles into Saudi Arabia, along with at least 30 longer-range ballistic missiles. The vast majority of these strikes have . . . targeted Saudi border towns and military bases, resulting in thousands of civilians wounded or displaced. Other types of systems have also been used in large numbers, including unguided Qaher-1 free-flight missiles launched at targets up to 250 km inside Saudi Arabia, particularly King Khaled Air Base and the adjacent Khamis Mushait Military City. . . .
Iran has a long history of helping foreign militant allies with missile programs, providing Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad with expert support operatives and a series of rocket and missile systems. More to the point, Iran has openly acknowledged its military assistance to the Houthis. . . .
For Iran, providing missile and other military support to the Houthis is a no-brainer. At very little cost, its Revolutionary Guard can strengthen ties with a regional ally and demonstrate its ability to threaten Saudi Arabia, and perhaps the UAE and Qatar as well, where vital U.S. bases lie just outside the current range of Houthi missiles. And if the rebels manage to hit a crucial U.S. or allied target, the Iranians are confident that the Houthis will pay the price, not them.
At the tactical level, the Revolutionary Guard is well aware that every missile attack drains Saudi capabilities, since a Houthi missile costing at most $1 million must be intercepted by Patriot missiles costing $2-3 million each. Continued attacks could even force the Saudis to develop another axis of expensive missile defenses in addition to the set required to defend itself against Iran across the Persian Gulf. The Revolutionary Guard is also learning valuable lessons about how its own missiles might perform against U.S.-provided defenses. For all these reasons, the missile war needs to stop.
Knights suggests how the U.S. can help make this happen by tightening the arms blockade on Yemen, providing intelligence and air support to Saudi Arabia, and other measures.
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