Iran and the Missile Campaign against Saudi Arabia

"By firing missiles against civilian and military targets in the heart of Saudi Arabia, the Iranian-backed Houthis try to change the military balance of the war in Yemen and create a new balance of deterrence with the Saudi-led coalition." Analysis by Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay

A Qiam missile displayed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard during a military parade (Photo: AP)

A ballistic missile from Yemen was intercepted on November 30, 2017, by Saudi air defense forces in the southern city of Khamis Mushait located in the southwestern province of Assir.

The missile attack was the second this month. On November 4, Saudi Arabia's aerial defense system intercepted a ballistic missile that was launched by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The missile was intercepted near King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.

According to Saudi Arabia, Iran is responsible for the escalation in fighting because it provides the Houthi rebels with advanced weapons systems. Ryadh has called the incident an act of war by Tehran and promised a strong response.

The Arab League on November 19, 2017, cited that since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen in March 2015, 78 ballistic missiles have been fired towards Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

In a November 24 report to the Security Council, the independent panel of UN monitors said that monitors had visited two Saudi Arabian military bases to see remnants gathered by authorities from missile attacks on Saudi Arabia on May 19, July 22, July 26 and November 4, 2017. They also visited four "impact points" from the November 4 attack where other remnants of the missiles were identified. "Design characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile," the report read.

Saudi Arabia claims that missiles were smuggled to the Houthis from Iran. There are two main routes to smuggle arms to the Houthis: The land route from Oman after ship-to-shore transshipment to small dhows, and the maritime route of the Red Sea.

On April 14, 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2216 lent international blockade on Yemen, calling for member states to "take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply of arms to these actors." The supply of missiles by Iran to the Houthi rebels is a clear violation of the UN resolution.

The Qiam-1 

The Qiam-1 is a ballistic missile developed and deployed by Iran. The missile is an indigenous variant of the Shahab-2.

The Qiam-1 is a single-stage, liquid-fueled missile. The missile measures 11.5m in length, 0.88m in body diameter, 0.66m in warhead diameter, and weighs 6,155 kg at launch. The missile, known to carry conventional high explosive 750 kg warheads to ranges between 700 and 800 km, has a reported accuracy of 500 m circle error probable (CEP). The guidance technology the Qiam-1 employs is unclear.

The missile was first shown in Tehran during an armed forces parade in October 2010. A US government report indicated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) received an unknown number of Qiam-1 missiles in late May 2010. In February 2014, Iran’s Fars news agency released images of 24 racked Qiam-1s in what appeared to be an underground missile facility or a tunnel complex.

Iran used the Qiam-1 in combat operations for the first time on June 18, 2017. Iranian forces fired a single Qiam-1 within a salvo of other missiles. The salvo targeted Islamic State militants in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor region in retaliation for ISIS terror attacks in Tehran on June 7, 2017. The IRGC claimed that all missiles hit their targets, over 700 km away from their launch sites in Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces.


Since March 2015, Saudi-led coalition forces, which back the Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have fought the Iran-allied Houthis. The coalition is fighting to restore the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Hadi. The Saudi-led Arab coalition has accused Iran of supplying the Houthi rebels with weapons. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has described Iran’s supply of missiles to the Houthis as "direct military aggression" that could be an act of war.

By firing missiles against civilian and military targets in the heart of Saudi Arabia, the Houthis try to change the military balance of the war in Yemen and to create a new balance of deterrence with the Saudi-led coalition.

Although Iran has been involved in Yemen for decades, its influence there has grown since the civil war began in 2014. Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah advise the Houthis militarily and provide them with advanced weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, unmanned airplanes, suicide boats and intelligence gathering devices. Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons, saying the US and Saudi allegations are "baseless and unfounded."

The war in Yemen and the competition over control of the Bab El Mandab Straits and the Red Sea maritime route are part of the regional conflict between Iran and its allies and the moderate Arab Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The outcome of the campaign in Yemen will have far-reaching effects on the future of the region. The United States and other Western countries will need to join the Saudi coalition to ward off the threat of Iranian hegemony and bring an end to the civil war and the humanitarian crisis.

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