Yemen Could Be the Next Base for Iranian Attacks on Israel

May 3, 2021 | Ari Heistein and Elisha Stoin
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Last night, Houthi rebels in Yemen launched an explosive drone and two ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. The Houthis—backed by the Islamic Republic and responsible for their country’s bloody civil war—have as their slogan “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam,” but they have so far limited themselves to inflicting violence on their fellow Yemenis and the neighboring Saudis. However, write Ari Heistein and Elisha Stoin, there are some easily conceivable scenarios where the Houthis could decide to use their arsenal of drones and missiles against the Jewish state. At present, some of these weapons could reach Israel’s borders, although not very effectively. Yet that too could change:

[T]he central concern in this context is the possibility of a technological leap in the event that the Houthis are provided more advanced ballistic-missile capabilities by Iran—particularly advanced Shihab missiles that have considerably longer ranges and would be capable of reaching Israel from Yemen. This technology is readily available for Iranian forces, particularly through the Shihab-3 missile in its medium-range version.

[Moreover], it is also possible that in the future the Houthis will permit Iran’s . . . forces to launch advanced Iranian cruise missiles, drones, or ballistic missiles from Yemeni territory. This could occur in a scenario in which Tehran seeks to strike Israel while distancing itself from the attack and minimizing potential blowback.

Also, in 2020-2021, in what is likely an effort to demonstrate their commitment to the Palestinian cause, the Houthis have sought to gain the release of Hamas prisoners from Saudi jails in exchange for the release of Saudi airmen captured by the Houthis over the course of the Saudi campaign in Yemen. Once again, the Houthis appear to be using their limited resources in a manner that prioritizes a regional rather than a local agenda.

Even without direct hostilities between Israel and the Houthis, developments in the Yemeni civil war could affect Israel negatively. The theater serves as a testing ground of sorts for Iranian weapon systems, in particular their use against Western platforms. The rapid pace of improvement in Houthi capabilities, from amateurishly using rocket-propelled grenades in 2010 to using precision-guided missiles for well-coordinated assassination attempts in 2020, indicates a learning process that could create knowledge that is then (directly or indirectly) disseminated among other [members of Iran’s network of proxies], including Hizballah and Hamas.

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