October 31, 2023 | Flash Brief

Israel Activates Arrow Defense System Against Houthi Missile Over Red Sea

October 31, 2023 | Flash Brief

Israel Activates Arrow Defense System Against Houthi Missile Over Red Sea

Latest Developments

Israel shot down a ballistic missile over the Red Sea on October 31 using the Arrow air defense system. The Houthis, an Iran-backed group in Yemen, had fired the missile. The shootdown is Arrow’s first operational interception of a ballistic missile since the beginning of the war with Hamas on October 7, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF said its air force tracked the missile’s trajectory in advance in order to shoot it down “at the most appropriate operational time and place.” The IDF also said that it shot down several “hostile targets” over the Red Sea, an apparent reference to long-range drones fired by the Houthis. The Houthis have repeatedly launched missiles and drones toward Israel since October 7.

Expert Analysis

“At the height of a difficult and necessary war, it would be easy to overlook this technical achievement. But we should not. Arrow, a system jointly in development by Israel and the United States for decades, has proven its value in saving lives. Furthermore, it appears to have given the Israelis enough strategic depth to allow them to ensure that the splash-down did not threaten Saudi Arabia or Red Sea shipping.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“This interception is a positive development and a testament to the value of U.S.-Israel security cooperation, but it would be a dangerous mistake for the United States and Israel to think they have sufficient air and missile defense capacity.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The Houthis are owned and operated by Iran. Tehran has built up the Houthis’ ballistic missile, cruise missile, and drone capabilities for years, with all those threats now pointed toward Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Iran must be held accountable through maximum economic pressure combined with a credible military threat to restore deterrence.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“The Iran-backed Houthis are a threat to the region. In the past, Iran used them as a proxy and testbed for drone and missile attacks targeting Saudi Arabia. Now, they have sought to partner with Hamas to open a new front against Israel and the United States.” — Seth J. Frantzman, FDD Adjunct Fellow

Increased Houthi Aggression

On October 18, the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Carney shot down numerous drones and missiles fired by the Houthis toward Israel. To signal support for Israel, protect U.S. forces, and deter additional aggression against Israel, the United States positioned two carrier strike groups in the Middle East in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attack, among other military deployments. The Houthis have also continued to threaten Saudi Arabia, killing four Saudi soldiers this month on the border with Yemen. On October 29, the Houthis released a statement in Arabic saying they had established a “joint operations” room to back Hamas against Israel. The Houthis’ official motto is “death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews.”

A Longstanding Threat

The Houthis attempted to take over most of Yemen beginning in 2014. In the years since, they have posed an increasing threat to U.S. partners and allies in the region, repeatedly targeting Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with missiles and drones. Beginning in 2021, the Houthis also obtained Iranian Shahed-136 drones, according to satellite photos posted at the time. Iran subsequently exported Shahed drones to Russia for use against Ukraine.

Leader of Yemen’s Houthis states willingness to support ‘Palestinian people,’” by Joe Truzman

U.S. warship intercepts missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthis,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Navy Shoots Down Missiles and Drones Launched From Yemen,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Green-Lights Israel’s Arrow-3 Sale to Germany,” FDD Flash Brief


Arab Politics Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy