January 17, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The secret Houthi plan to move missiles, drones beyond Red Sea

The Houthis have moved weapons toward the coast to expand their area of operations and target western navies operating in the area.
January 17, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The secret Houthi plan to move missiles, drones beyond Red Sea

The Houthis have moved weapons toward the coast to expand their area of operations and target western navies operating in the area.

The Houthis may be repositioning some of their missiles and drones after US and UK airstrikes and also to present more challenges to shipping, a new report says. 

Al-Ain media in the United Arab Emirates said it has learned from “Yemen military sources” about how the Houthis are moving their drones and other munitions to carry out attacks. 

The Houthis are an Iranian-backed group that controls part of Yemen. Yemen also has an official government and other factions within the country.

New plan to attack international shipping

The report says that the sources revealed these details over the weekend. 

“The Houthis arsenal is moving under cover of darkness.” This represents a “new plan” by the Houthis to carry out attacks against international shipping routes. These types of reports are worth examining because even if the claims are not verified, the report itself illustrates growing concerns in the region about Iranian-backed Houthi escalation.

US Central Command said on January 16 that the “US conducts strikes in Yemen as Houthi attacks against international shipping continue.” 

That report noted that “earlier in the day at approximately, 4:15 a.m. (Sana’a time), US Forces struck and destroyed four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.”

Repositioning of weapons in wake of US, UK strikes

The Al-Ain report says that the Houthis moved medium-range ballistic missiles and drones to the eastern highlands of Taiz governorate and areas in southern Yemen. 

“The sources added that the militias transported drones to the Al-Ahkoum Mountains and the highlands overlooking the ‘Taiz – Lahj – Aden’ line and set up their platforms, in preparation for their use against cargo ships in the Arab and Red Bahrain, the Gulf of Aden, and Bab al-Mandab.”

This represents a repositioning of drones and missiles “in the wake of the American and British strikes that targeted dozens of militia targets.”

Now the Houthis have moved weapons toward the coast to expand their area of operations and target Western navies operating in the area.

It comes “as part of a plan aimed at expanding the theater of operations from the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, according to observers.” One area is 130 km. from the Arabian Sea while the distance to the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab is 160 km.

ACCORDING TO US Central Command on January 16 “Iranian-backed Houthi militants launched an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea. M/V Zografia, a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier reported they were struck but seaworthy and were continuing their Red Sea transit. No injuries were reported.”

The Al-Ain report meanwhile appeared to indicate that the Houthis may be considering launching missiles at ships that are not in the Red Sea, firing them over Aden. 

The report claimed that this trajectory was reflected in the January 15 attack by the Houthis on the bulk carrier Gibraltar Eagle.

The report said that several missiles actually landed in Yemen, apparently due to malfunctions. They struck areas in Lahij near Aden, the Al-Ain report claimed.

The report indicates that the Houthis will seek to escalate attacks in new areas, rather than directly confront the Americans. 

Houthis could seek to expand attacks beyond the Red Sea

The assumption then is that the Houthis could begin attacking ships beyond the Red Sea. This would expand the threat to a huge swath of international waters off Yemen. 

With some ships already diverting around Africa, this could present a new challenge to the US and other countries that have signed on to try to stop further Houthi attacks. The report also discusses how the Houthis have acquired weapons via smuggling.

Meanwhile, the attacks continue in the Red Sea. A Greek-owned bulk carrier was struck on Tuesday, the BBC noted. 

In another incident, the US sought to search a small boat near Somalia that was allegedly carrying Iranian parts for missions for the Houthis. Two US Navy SEALs also went missing during the interdiction of the vessel. Iranian warheads were found on the vessel.

The Al-Ain report could reflect new serious information about the Houthis and their positioning of missiles and drones. 

It could also reflect the wider regional concerns in the Gulf about the Houthis choosing to escalate. Either way, the report is important because it illustrates that the region is wondering what the Iran-backed Houthis will do next.

Iran’s attacks on Iraq and Pakistan this week show that Iran is more willing to throw its weight around. The Houthis attacks have continued and companies are wary to ship via the Red Sea or they are trying to distance themselves from any connection to the US, the UK, or Israel. This is a serious challenge for the West and the freedom of the seas.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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