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What is the military strength of Yemen’s Houthi rebels?


Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who vowed to retaliate against US and British strikes early Friday against key military sites, have built up a significant arsenal, including cruise missiles and drones.

Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on 7 October, the Iran-backed Houthis have carried out a spate of attacks in the Red Sea, claiming to be targeting ships with Israeli links in solidarity with the Palestinians.

After repeatedly warning there would be consequences if the attacks continued, US and British forces struck 60 targets at 16 Houthi locations early on Friday in what they said was a bid to prevent further disruption to the vital shipping lane.

The Houthis have been steadily developing their military capabilities since 2014, when they seized the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Their arsenal of weapons made with Iranian equipment or components includes ballistic and cruise missiles as well as drones, according to defence experts.

Ballistic missiles

That includes ballistic missiles the Houthis call Typhoon – a rebranded version of the Iranian Qadr missile with a range of 1,600 to 1,900 kilometres, according to Fabian Hinz of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It is very inaccurate, at least in the version they’ve shown us, but it should be able to reach Israel,” Hinz told AFP.

Iran carried out tests of its Qadr missiles in 2016, hitting targets about 1,400 kilometres away.

Mohammed Albasha, senior Middle East analyst for the US-based Navanti Group, said the Houthis unveiled their Typhoon missile arsenal only weeks before the attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel.

The rebels, who control much of north Yemen, also have Iran’s Quds cruise missile, according to Hinz.

There are different versions of the Quds, some of which have a range of about 1,650 kilometres – enough to reach Israel, he said.

In 2022, the Houthis said they used Quds 2 cruise missiles to hit oil facilities in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The powered, guided missiles traversed more than 1,126 kilometres from northern Yemen.

The Houthis also used the Quds 2 missile in 2020 to strike facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Drones

Saudi Arabia and the United States have repeatedly accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with drones, missiles and other weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

The Houthis say they manufacture their drones domestically, although analysts say they contain smuggled Iranian components.

Their arsenal also includes the Iranian Shahed-136 drones that Russia is using in its war on Ukraine, according to Hinz.

They have a range of about 2,000 kilometres, Hinz said.

Another drone model, the Samad-3, is also available to them, according to Hinz.

“We don’t know the exact range, but it should be about 1,600 kilometres,” he said.

The Houthis have used the Samad-3 drones in attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The Samad-3 can be fitted with 18 kilogrammes of explosives, according to rebel media sources and analysts.

The Houthis’ drones use GPS guidance and “fly autonomously along pre-programmed waypoints” towards their targets, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in a 2020 report.


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