A US Navy warship downed missiles and drones launched at Israel by Yemen's Houthi rebels in October.
The attempted attack was a demonstration of the robust missile arsenal the Houthis have built up.
Despite their limitations, those missiles can still threaten the US and its allies in the region.
The Yemen-based Ansarullah movement, commonly known as the Houthi rebels, has launched three missile and drone attacks at Israel in recent weeks, adding to the aerial fray in the region amid Israel's ongoing war with Hamas.
The Houthi attacks are an unprecedented demonstration of the group's formidable arsenal, which has grown in size and sophistication and could present a potent threat to US warships operating in strategically valuable waterways around the Arabian Peninsula.
The initial Houthi attack was reported on October 19, when US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Carney shot down four cruise missiles and 15 drones as they flew north over the Red Sea, most likely toward Israel. Saudi Arabia, which until recently fought a years-long war against the Houthis, reportedly intercepted a fifth missile fired from Yemen that day.
The US Defense Department later confirmed that the Houthi missiles had a range of no less than 2,000 kilometers, or about 1,240 miles.
On October 27, drones caused explosions in the Egyptian towns of Taba and Nuweiba near the Israeli border, injuring six people. Israel said the drones were launched from Yemen and that its territory was their intended target.
A third incident, on October 31, saw Israel's advanced Arrow air-defense system intercept a Houthi ballistic missile and an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter shoot down a cruise missile.
The nature and range of the Houthi attacks has drawn international attention, especially the October 31 incident, which is said to be the longest-range attack with a ballistic missile, the Arrow system's first successful intercept of a ballistic missile, and the first case of combat in space.
The Houthis said they launched missiles and drones in response to Israel's ground incursion into Gaza, and a Houthi spokesperson vowed the group will "continue to carry out more precise missile and drone strikes until Israeli aggression stops."
The strikes came shortly after the Houthis flaunted a sizable and relatively advanced arsenal of missiles and drones during a military parade on September 23.
Many of the weapons on display were conspicuously similar to Iranian designs, such as a ballistic missile the Houthis call Aqeel, which was displayed for the first time and is likely a derivative of Iran's Qiam, as well as the Toufan missile, which seemed to be based on Iran's Ghadr medium-range ballistic missile.
Iran has long been suspected of supplying the Houthis with components for those missiles, which the group assembles locally. Following the October 19 incident, a senior US defense official told reporters that Tehran "has been increasing the sophistication and lethality of equipment that it's been providing to the Houthis for years."
Matthew Bey, a senior analyst at the risk-intelligence company RANE, told Insider that Iran's provision of sophisticated weaponry has been "crucial" to the Houthis, "especially when it comes to more advanced parts like guidance systems."
While the Houthis have "demonstrated the capability" to launch attacks at distances of more than 1,200 miles, the group's drones and cruise missiles are "somewhat easy to intercept" given their "rudimentary nature," Bey said.
Houthi ballistic missiles "have long proven" inaccurate, and the group likely doesn't have a very large stockpile of advanced long-range missiles and drones, Bey added. Those reliability and supply issues mean Houthi aerial attacks on their own are unlikely to penetrate or overwhelm Israel's advanced, multi-layered air defenses.
"Any Houthi attack would also likely see some of the missiles and drones being taken out by Saudi and US militaries, as the October 19 attack demonstrated," Bey said.
During its lengthy war with Saudi Arabia, the Houthis launched over 1,000 missiles and drones at the kingdom between 2015 and 2021. Riyadh claimed it intercepted the majority of those, though the attacks killed an estimated 120 people.
Most of the Houthis' long-range attacks against their northern neighbor failed to strike their targets, a sign of those weapons' "limited accuracy," Bey said, adding that the Houthis possess "some anti-ship capabilities" but have primarily used "sea drones and explosives, not missiles," against ships off the Yemeni coast.
The Carney intercept wasn't the US Navy's first encounter with Houthi missiles. In October 2016, the US military struck three Houthi-controlled radar sites in Yemen with Tomahawk cruise missiles in retaliation for two missile attacks targeting the USS Mason, another guided-missile destroyer, in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.
It's not yet clear if the Houthis' improved capabilities allow the group to pose a greater threat to US warships.
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and expert on naval operations, noted that the Houthis have proven "very effective" at using "structured attacks" combining "small numbers of missiles or rockets with large numbers of drones."
"The drones tend to lead and follow the missile salvo, allowing the drones to initially confuse or overwhelm air defenses, and then the last set of drones can take advantage of the target likely having depleted its defenses shooting down the missiles," Clark told Insider. "This approach worked against Saudi oil refineries and US forward bases."
While Houthi missiles and drones have limited effectiveness, they are also relatively cheap, especially compared to the interceptors fired by the US-made Patriot air-defense system, each of which can cost several million dollars.
During their war, the Saudis fired so many Patriot interceptors against Houthi projectiles that they feared depleting their supply. Clark said the Houthis could use similar asymmetrical tactics against the US Navy.
"Although the USS Carney shot down a drone and missile attack last month, it did so largely with $300,000 SM-2 missiles," Clark said. "A sustained Houthi air assault with drones costing $10,000 or less and older anti-ship missiles provided by Iran could eventually deplete or overwhelm a ship's magazine of air-defense interceptors."
Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and columnist who writes about Middle East developments, military affairs, politics, and history. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications focused on the region.
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