Houthis attack Saudi Arabia repeatedly

Yemen’s Houthi militants have attacked Saudi Arabia’s airport after drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil pipelines. How are Houthi followers being funded to carry out such attacks despite Yemen being the poorest country in the Middle East?

Background 

In 2015, Saudi Arabia leading a coalition of nine countries launched a military intervention in Yemen in response to calls from president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi for military support. He was ousted by the Houthi movement due to economic and political grievances and fled to Saudi Arabia. The intervention initially consisted of a bombing campaign on Houthi rebels and later saw a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces into Yemen. 

The war has received widespread criticism and had a dramatic worsening effect on Yemen's humanitarian situation, that reached the level of a "humanitarian disaster. On 1 July 2015, UN declared for Yemen a "level-three" emergency—the highest UN emergency level—for a period of six months.

The coalition accused Iran of militarily and financially supporting the Houthis. According to American officials, Iran discouraged Houthi rebels from taking over the Yemeni capital in late 2014, casting further doubt on claims that the rebels were fighting a proxy war on behalf of Iran. A spokeswoman for the US National Security Council said that it remained the council's assessment that "Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen.

Analysis

Yemen's Houthis have fired a missile at Saudi Arabia's Abha airport, which is 200km north of the border with Yemen and serves domestic and regional routes. The Abha attack comes as the Saudi-UAE-led coalition intensified air raids on Houthi positions in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah.

The projectile hit the arrivals hall of the airport causing material damage and wounding 26 civilians.  Three women and two children were among the wounded, and were of Saudi, Yemeni and Indian nationalities. The attack could amount to a war crime and proved that the Houthis have acquired "advanced weapons from Iran", the coalition said, vowing to take "urgent and timely" measures in response. 

The group has released a video showing its fighters launching a missile that is visually similar to Iran's Soumar ground-launched cruise missile. The footage offers additional evidence that the Yemeni militants' arsenal, which already contains suicide drones and short-range ballistic missiles, has expanded to include another relatively advanced weapon system. It was the second time the Houthis had used a cruise missile, the first after the group deployed one last year to hit a nuclear power station being constructed in the UAE.

Previously, Saudi air defence forces intercepted two Houthi drones that targeted Khamis Mushait in the kingdom's south. The militants had also carried out multiple drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The attack has demonstrated that the group was “capable of carrying out qualitative operations on a larger scale deep inside aggressor countries”.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said in a statement "The continuation of the aggression and siege on Yemen for the fifth year, the closure of Sanaa airport and the rejection of a political solution make it inevitable for our people to defend themselves".  The militants have also stepped up drone and missile attacks on the kingdom amid tensions between Iran and the United States. 

Assessment 

Our assessment is that the illegal trade of Iranian oil is the main source of income for Houthis. A small number of companies inside and outside Yemen operating as front companies using false documentation “to conceal a donation of fuel”. It was found that the fuel was loaded from Iranian ports under false documentation to avoid required U.N. inspections. 

Also, Iran violated a U.N. arms embargo by directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Houthis. Iran had begun smuggling weapons into Yemen via Kuwait in an effort to evade an international arms embargo on the Houthis. Iran’s Qud Force, the external arm of IRGC which has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization, had military personnel in Yemen to train Houthi fighters. 

We feel that though the Yemeni government had hardened its rules and red tape processes regulating oil trade, the Houthis have upped the ante. Although the Houthis have agreed to withdraw from key port of Hodeida it is likely that the offer could be misleading if it did not allow the UN to monitor and verify shipments through the port.

The Houthis have also taken the help offered by the Lebanese Hezbollah. It can be noted that Yemeni security forces in Marib governorate confiscated a shipment of drugs coming from Lebanon, on its way to the Houthi militias in the capital Sanaa.

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