Death From Above: The missile threat to Saudi Arabia and UAE

Recent missile strikes against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia have major implications for the country’s corporate security environment.

SUMMARY
Recent missile strikes against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia have major implications for the country’s corporate security environment.

INTRODUCTION
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Middle Eastern and African countries to war against Yemen’s rebel forces. Operation Decisive Storm, launched in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, saw the Saudi royal air force seize control of Yemeni airspace, a move which was quickly followed by a concerted bombing campaign.

Naval assets formed a blockade of Yemeni ports, launching bombardments on rebel coastal positions. Ground units launched artillery strikes to soften rebel resistance as a prelude to the deployment of infantry and armour within Yemeni territory.

Three years later, the war has reached a stalemate. An analysis of the Yemeni civil war lies outside the scope of this report, which instead focuses on one specific area of threat: the proliferation of Houthi missile strikes into Saudi Arabian territory and against both civilian and military vessels, and the impact this has for commercial entities in the kingdom.

MISSILE THREAT

On land
Since the outbreak of hostilities, Houthi commanders have launched missile strikes against Saudi territory. The primary targets have been Saudi military garrisons in the southernmost provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran. The intermittent bombardments have killed hundreds of uniformed Saudi personnel: one of the most significant strikes, by a Tochka-class short-range ballistic missile at a Saudi military facility in Najran, killed at least 50 people, many of whom were soldiers.

Strikes have also occurred further north against civilian targets. The Burkan 2-H Scud missile, with an operational range of at least 800km, is now a fixture in the Houthi missile arsenal, and has the capability to reach the Saudi capital Riyadh. Indeed, on 4 November 2017 rebel forces targeted King Khalid International Airport (RUH), which serves Riyadh.

Houthi missile units launched a strike at an oil refinery

The missile failed to strike its target, although Western journalists have provided credible evidence (discussed below) that this was due to luck, rather than Saudi air-defence systems. The Burkan 2-H appears to be based on an Iranian Qiam missile, which is itself a variation of a Scud-C Soviet Union-era weapon system.

Meanwhile, on 23 July, Houthi missile units launched a strike at an oil refinery owned by national oil company, Saudi Aramco. Houthi officials claimed a successful hit, although Saudi officials riposted that a fire that broke out at the same time was coincidental, and due to extreme temperatures.

Although this is not an exhaustive list of missile strikes in Saudi territory, they are highly significant as they demonstrate that Houthi commanders can and have regarded civilian facilities – an airport and a refinery – as legitimate military targets.

This was confirmed as official Houthi policy in November 2017, when Houthi commanders specifically threatened civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the UAE following an escalation of the Saudi-led blockade of Yemeni ports.

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