In Yemen, Iran Is Testing Weapons and Tactics for Future Use against Israel

October 4, 2019 | Uzi Rubin
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Yemen’s civil war, which began in 2011, has since 2015 become a proxy conflict between Iran—which supports the Houthi rebels—on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and a few of its allies—which support the pre-2011 regime—on the other. By arming the Houthis with advanced missiles and drones, training them in their use, and developing tactics that can make the most of these weapons, Tehran has turned them into a formidable threat to Riyadh. Israel should pay attention, writes Uzi Rubin:

The war is being exploited by Iran to test strategies, tactics, and weapons in battle conditions. It stands to reason that the weapons and tactics employed in Yemen today will be used against Israel tomorrow.

With remarkable persistence and ingenuity and in the face of a UN arms embargo enforced by a Saudi led blockade, Iran managed to build an effective war machine for its Houthi ally. This is the lesson that Israel should derive from the Yemen conflict: that arms blockades are porous, and that a determined enemy like Iran can always find a way to supply its allies. This is not to say that blockades are completely redundant: rather, their effectiveness is limited in scope and volatile in time. . . . As for Israel’s ongoing effort to curb the development of a Hizballah rocket-production industry [in Syrian and Lebanon], time will tell whether [it] can succeed.

More remarkably, the Iranians have provided the Houthis with knowhow, production machinery, and expertise to set up an unmanned-aerial-vehicle (UAV) industry of their own in their stronghold of Sad’ha in northern Yemen. The Houthi UAV industry is now producing unique designs of long-range machines, some equipped with jet engines, obviously designed in Iran. Beyond the classic UAV roles of reconnaissance and light bombardment, the Houthi/Iranian alliance is using them for direct “suicide” attacks on Patriot [anti-missile] batteries. . . . [S]ignificantly, the Houthi–Iranian alliance exploits the Patriots’ limitations in engaging low and slow threats in order to penetrate beneath the Saudi air/missile defense shield.

UAVs were first used by Hizballah for reconnaissance over Israel even prior to the 2006 Lebanon war. . . . The Yemen war demonstrates how UAVs will be employed in future wars in significant numbers to erode Israel’s missile-defense capabilities by attacking Iron Dome, David Sling, and Arrow batteries. Hostile UAVs, in conjunction with precision rockets, may well be tasked with damaging Israel’s critical infrastructures such as desalination plants.

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